Joe Gandelman: Ban these obnoxious phrases
If you’re a political and media junkie, you know one truth: your head starts to spin after a while — even more than the political spinners you see every day on MSNBC, Fox News and CNN — due to obnoxious, trite and overused phrases that have invaded our culture. Here’s an updated list of some phrases as welcome as chalk scraping on a blackboard.
1. “False equivalence.” When employed by political partisans “false equivalence” usually means there is a VALID equivalence, since in American politics you always defend your own political sports team and insist only the other side is guilty. Then there is political jiu-jitsu “false equivalence” on display recently on Twitter, where someone insisted it was not a false equivalence to say Vice President Joe Biden’s “chains” remark was the same as Missouri Rep. Tim Akin’s controversial assertion about “legitimate rape.” When you hear the phrase “false equivalence”, it usually comes from a partisan in defense mode.
2. “A defining moment.” Says who? Some self-important analyst, political reporter, ideological blogger? How does this supposedly wise person, who can tell us now how this will define someone’s life or history, know it is a “defining moment?” Do they have a crystal ball? Most people who think they have crystal balls are as accurate in their predictions as Fox News’ Dick Morris. The only analyst with a crystal ball that seemingly works is the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato. And he doesn’t hurl the phrase “defining moment” around.
3. “Tried to change the subject...” That means a politician dared to try to talk about something other than what a politician, political pundit or journalist considered to be the true story of the day. Could it be that politicians may prioritize differently than reporters and pundits, and they’re trying to talk about something that may be of greater substance than the latest skunk spraying contest raging between two parties or candidates? Can’t we multi-task? He who says “tried to change the subject” often arrogantly thinks he alone can determine “the subject.”
4. “He just doesn’t get it...” That often means someone won’t go along with the speakers’ partisan or ideological spin and/or sees things differently.
5. “Singing Kumbaya...” This suggests someone who is ideologically trite, conjuring up images of people with their arms around each others’ shoulders, vapidly smiling as they sing a song suggesting peace and love can change the world. Puh-leze: retire this phrase with all your folk song vinyl records.
6. “A Marine and his buddies...” How do we know it’s that Marine’s “buddy?” Can’t a Marine hate a co-Marine’s guts? Why don’t we say, “A proctologist and his buddies...Obama and his buddies...Romney and his buddies.” And what about military women? Are they with their “buddies,” too?
7. “The Mushy Middle.” Partisans love to use this phrase, but when the “mushy middle” supports their beliefs, then suddenly the middle is perceptive, thoughtful, principled, important and brilliant. Most often used by political hacks.
8. “DE-fense and OFF-fense.” Used in sports. So does this mean we have a federal Department of DE-fense? If you find this OFF-fensive then you just don’t get it about how huge this is.
9. “The liberal media...The conservative media...” Most media outlets separate opinion from their news gathering operations. Reporters and editors are often diverse politically. Liberals and conservatives blast the media when they don’t like its content, then quote it and praise it to the hilt when they like its content.
10. “The mainstream media...” New media bloggers blast it all the time and trumpet themselves as belonging to a new age of journalism, but if you removed the mainstream media reporting that bloggers copy, paste and comment on (without paying for this source material), most blogs would have little content, indeed.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.