THE BLOG

Seriously Annoying Words, Like 'Fiscal Cliff' and Whatever

01/02/2013 06:11 pm ET | Updated Mar 04, 2013

Warning: Rant ahead.

So you know how like, when the phone rings and your wife's all like, "Just answer it," and you're like, "You get it," and she's all like, "Dude!" and you're like, "All right."

Of course you don't. You use English in your home. Not so my family. We have a 14-year-old and two midlife crises. We speak a garbled vernacular of Late Urban Slang with a smattering of High Middle Valley stirred in. We're, like, totally annoying. Almost as annoying as people who conduct telephone surveys.

Nah, we're not that bad. Nothing is as annoying as people who conduct telephone surveys -- nothing except Nicki Minaj.

I found it ironic, therefore, to learn that a recent telephone survey was conducted for the exclusive purpose of determining what people think are the most annoying words in modern parlance. What that means is that a team of tele-intruders robo-dialed American households and harangued the denizens thereof with basic demographic questions followed by queries designed to elicit their visceral responses to an assortment of bothersome terms. How annoying is that? Using the most annoying means possible to determine just how annoyed people get at a list of annoying words... uber-annoying.

Using a telephone survey to find out how bothered people are by banal speech is like using Dr. Phil to find out how badly people hate pompous charlatans.

The survey, conducted under the auspices of Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, found that the least popular words or phrases for a broad cross-section of American adults were:

1. Whatever
2. Like
3. You know
4. Just sayin'

Take those words and phrases out of my home and it would be a quiet place indeed. Just yesterday I overheard this half-conversation between the 14-year-old and some other gifted orator with a cell phone:

"So you know how, like, Samantha's all, like, you know... Well she's like, 'No way!' And I'm like, 'Just sayin'.'"

I assume they were discussing algebra. Maybe it was civics. Whatever.

The thing about annoying speech is that it comes in more than the adolescent variety. It's easy enough to pick on the youth, because for one thing, they're idiots. But idiocy knows no age. I'm as irked as the next man by "whatever," "like," "you know" and "just sayin'." I'm equally irked by the drivel I regularly imbibe from newsreaders who are, for the most part, grown-ups.

Here's one: "Arab Spring."

It seems that particular term can trace its etymology back to an article by Mark Lynch in the January 6, 2011, issue of Foreign Policy. You'll note that January is not in the spring. Neither is December, which was the month in 2010 when courageous Tunisians were the first to take to the streets in a series of popular movements that swept through much of North Africa and the Middle East, a series that continues today in Palestine. In titling his article "Obama's Arab Spring?" Lynch was asking, rhetorically, if the popular unrest in Tunisia that spread so quickly to nearby countries would prove to be like the so-called Spring of Nations, a series of revolutions against aristocracy in Europe and parts of Latin America that erupted first in France in 1848 and spread quickly to other countries.

I wonder if anyone at any cable news outlet knows that.

"Arab Spring" is a stupid term. So is my pet-peeve du jour -- "fiscal cliff." Now, in the first place, it's not really a cliff at all. It's more like a fiscal slope. And in the second place, shut the f#$% up.

The earliest usage of the term that I can dig up was cited by BBC News Magazine and credited to Walter Stern who wrote, in a 1957 New York Times article:

To the prospective home owner wondering whether the purchase of a given house will push him over the fiscal cliff, probably the most difficult item to estimate is his future property tax.

The current connotation of "fiscal cliff" goes back not so far, to Ben Bernanke's statement before a congressional committee in late February of this year, in which he described, "a massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases" that would come to pass on January 1, 2013, failing some legislation to counteract the impending expiration of the 2010 Tax Relief Act and simultaneous spending reductions.

Word to the newsy -- it's not a real thing. There's no cliff. It's not even metaphorically real. It's a scare term, a flourish, an embellishment, a deliberate hyperbole and it has no place in thoughtful discussion, which is why, I suppose, it has such a prominent place in the news media.

Had the folks at Marist College called my house... Well I probably wouldn't have answered, but hypothetically, had I spoken to the folks from Marist College and given them my own list of annoying words and phrases from the recent past, on that list would be:

1. Arab Spring
2. Fiscal cliff
3. Brinksmanship
4. Doomsday
5. Red State/Blue State
6. Extremist
7. Moderate
8. Centrist
9. War on (any generic noun)
10. Any scandal ending in -gate

I have never heard a 14-year-old use any of those words or phrases, which makes them nonetheless asinine.

I admit this tirade is a purely personal and trivial year-end grumble. I dislike vacuous words. I like being an effete snot. I don't expect everyone to take my side. I'm just sayin'...

2012-12-29-574443_4919503508041_634169179_ncopy.jpg