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Examiner
  • Jeff Fox: What heck happened to words?

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  • Another new year, another list of words to banish.
    I’m entirely good with that, but this year I’m more interested in one to save and one that’s making a weird transition right in front of us.
    First, moral outrage. The worthy and true word lovers at Lake Superior State University each Jan. 1 offer up a list of annoying words and phrases that should be banished for “misuse, overuse and general uselessness.”
    Bless them. They are fighting the good fight. They haven’t got a chance.
    “Selfie” tops their 2014 list, but we all know that one isn’t going anywhere. Neither is hashtag or Twitterverse, nor blank-pocalypse or blank-ageddon. Yes, I would banish them all if I were king – a better and better idea, the more I think about it – but I would probably start with the odious “fan base,” which also is on LSSU’s list.
    Just for reference, last year we were all encouraged to drop “trend” as a verb, “guru” as a mindless label for anyone who knows anything about anything and “double down” just on general principles.
    It didn’t work. Faddish words come and go, but they do so in their own time (as will that shimmying dance with that other word from 2013 that doesn’t need to be printed anymore, ever). But some of them stick around. Twenty years ago, who knew “network” as a verb and “proactive” as, well, whatever would eventually be taken seriously?
    And now a new star appears in the fixed constellation of prepositions, but you’ve only heard it if you know someone under 25.
    I wasn’t able to go to college because money.
    What?
    The bill didn’t pass because politics.
    OK, the meaning is less precise, which after all is the point of effective communication, but one surmises that “because money” means “because I didn’t have enough money.” And who has time to text all that?
    Now look. I am firmly convinced the brutal syntax and grammar – noun-verb agreement? anyone? please? – that TV constantly shovels at us is direct result of not learning the nuts and bolts of sentence structure, and that includes our little friends the prepositions. I’m old school on this stuff, but I say give “because” a pass. If it’s the worst thing this generation does to the language, we’ll be OK.
    One little word, however, is needed more, not less. This seems to be a broadcasting phenomenon, but it’s too common to chalk up to the occasional reporter rambling off notes instead of a sharply crafted script.
    It’s the word “the.”
    “Dow is up 30 points,” says the noon news. “U.S. government is moving to ban lead in toys.”
    Page 2 of 2 - “The” turns out to be a slippery little guy. The Chiefs play at Arrowhead Stadium, but when they went to Minnesota they would play at the Metrodome. Lots of examples, both ways. It’s all a matter of accepted usage. Some organizations force the issue and have dropped the “the” from their names to sound, I don’t know, trendy. Maybe they’re saving on ink on their letterheads.
    But it’s creeping into newspeak – a lot, it seems to me – and it comes off as pretentious, clueless, whatever. Newspaper headlines have always had this halting way of getting the point across – “Congress passes budget” – but who wants to go around talking like that?
    Please, tweet in Droid all you want, but speak English.
    Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter @Jeff_Fox.

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