I’ve been a journalist and writer for a very long time. I’m not going to be specific because, well, that would make me seem old. And I’m not. Old that is. In the course of those oh-so-many years, I have developed trigger reactions to certain words, phrases and platitudes. And because I care for our readers, I have banned them from stories.
Some dislikes have grown slowly. For example, I hate the word “plethora.” It started more than a decade ago when I was an editor at The Plain Dealer. One of the freelance writers that I edited on a weekly basis LOVED that word. Over the course of a couple of months, I started noticing it was in every story she wrote — usually in the first two or three paragraphs. I remember calling her and probably sounding unhinged when I declared (OK, sort of screamed) that she was banned from using that word. Ever. Forever.
I also stand firm on my forever-ban of the phrase “ ‘Tis the Season.” Wait until the holidays are here again. You, dear reader, will start seeing it over and over and over again. You will hate it, too.
A phrase that I banned years ago, that has actually faded from popular lexicon, is “Up, Up and Away.” Every balloon, kite, airplane, biplane, glider or bird picture appearing in a newspaper 15 or 20 years ago included that phrase somewhere.
What made me think of those words/phrases is an ongoing conversation we have in our newsroom. Most of the people I work with are under the age of 30. I’ve noticed that some phrases I use elicit puzzled looks. And I’m puzzled that they are puzzled. To me, these are everyday phrases. Here are a few that I had to explain:
Sitting in the catbird seat. No one in the office knew this one. I had to explain it means being in a superior position where you have the advantage. (It’s also a good book by James Thurber, but that’s beside the point.)
What a maroon. Again, puzzled looks. Honestly, does no one watch Bugs Bunny anymore? Look it up on YouTube if you still don’t know.
Kit and caboodle. It means “the whole thing.”
Language is a living, breathing entity that reflects culture and technology. That is why etymology, or the study of language, is so fascinating. For example, did you know that the word “stereotype” comes from printing, “hard-up” comes from sailing and “pipe dream” comes from opium dens?
I recently was talking to Terry Kovel, of HGTV fame and antiques and collectibles fame, and she related how she gave a speech about outdated phrases and activities. No one seemed to know, she said, what “cc” meant. It stands for “carbon copy,” or that inky sheet you put between two sheets to make an exact copy as you typed or wrote.
Here are some of the top out-of-date words or phrases (my favorite is still “maroon”) that are sort of still being used. Plus, a few others whose origin I find interesting.
Nothing to write home about. Dates back to when letters were the primary form of communication. If it wasn’t big, then you didn’t write about it.
Jump the shark. Grasping at straws for an excuse or story plot. From “Happy Days,” of course, when The Fonz water-skied over a shark in one of the episodes.
Luggage. Pre-wheels on suitcases, you had to “lug” them around when traveling.
Online. In early computing times, a machine communicated to another machine with a physical cord or “line.” Things done without this communication were “off line.”
Message board. Before the internet, announcements were shared on a bulletin board in a prominent location in a business.
Ringing off the hook. I said this the other day to my husband when my cell phone wouldn’t stop “ringing.” I laughed when I realized the archaic nature of what I had just said.
Roll the window up (or down). Crank windows in cars, of course. The last car that I had with cranks doesn’t seem that long ago, but in retrospect, it was when my “baby” was still in a car seat. She is now 24 years old.
I am sad some phrases have died out. For example, wouldn’t it be great to bring back the word “cattywampus.” It means something that sits crooked, such as a piece of furniture sitting at an angle.
Before I start sounding too much like a cranky old person, I need to do what my co-worker Maureen just declared was on her agenda: “I’m going to go home and take a big fat nap.”
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