Lake Superior State University's annual list of words and phrases that should be deep-sixed is a service to the public. I eagerly look forward to reading it and then sadly shake my head in agreement. I cannot say this year’s list has done much to get people to tell their BFFs to man up, lest they epicly fail and their misadventures go viral. It has not ended Facebook or Google as verbs.
Dear Lake Superior State University,
First, thank you for your invaluable support for word nerds and cranks of every stripe, but especially those of us who cling to some misguided notion of proper English, those who refuse to accept transition as a verb or remodel as a noun.
Your annual list of words and phrases that should be deep-sixed is a service to the public. I eagerly look forward to reading it and then sadly shake my head in agreement. I cannot say this year’s list has done much to get people to tell their BFFs to man up, lest they epicly fail and their misadventures go viral. It has not ended Facebook or Google as verbs.
Wait. I have personally punted on Google and figure it’s a perfectly fine verb, or at least it has enough momentum that it’s unwise to stand in the way. See, I’m a reasonable person.
That said, the 2011 word of the year has to be the overused “leverage” and its variations, including “overleverage,” “develerage” and – you can’t make this up – “delever.”
Let’s go back to third grade science class and review. Johnny must move a 90-pound block but lacks the strength to simply lift it. However, he can use one of our family of “simple machines,” the lever. Think of a bar or a stout, flat board.
He wedges that bar under the edge of the rock and then lays it across a fulcrum, say, a smaller rock. Or perhaps the family dog or, if she’s not looking, his little sister. In any event, Johnny applies a moderate amount of force to the lever and, thanks to the fulcrum, gains what is called mechanical advantage – force amplification by use of a tool – and suddenly he can move that rock.
Yes, the lever, block and tackle, the gear train, the wheel and axle, the pulley – we were taught that these simple friends have helped mankind push back the wilderness and civilize the planet. But things never stay simple.
The business crowd, ever eager to glom onto new ways to say old things, grabbed up “leverage” a few years ago, in the sense of “using some of my money and a bunch of someone else’s money to do far more than my money alone would do.”
A lot of us would call that taking out a loan, as in, leveraging my steady paycheck into a mortgage because the alternative is, I don’t know, taking 62 years to save up $150,000. By which time I will be too old and broken down to mow my nice new lawn.
So, again, let’s all be reasonable. A little leverage is a good thing. A loan for my house, a loan for your business – those are the things that make the world go around. But putting the fancy phrasing is just so much excess makeup. Debt is still debt.
Besides, leverage carries the connotation of getting something for nothing or close to it. Deep their hearts, the smart set in the business world thinks that, with the right alchemy, two and two really is five. If “do more with less” has finally been proven to be a fraud, maybe we can hit it from the other way.
All day the financial news channel drones on that Company X has gotten itself overlevered and is still delevering. Why can’t we say it straight? The suits put the company in debt up to its eyeballs, thinking the party would never end – at least on their watch – even as each layer of debt made their very foundation and their finely tuned expections of return on other people’s money a little shakier? Then the music stopped, and suddenly all that debt looked like a really bad idea. That is the economic history of the United States of the last three years.
I notice that the annoying leverage made your list in 2001, for much the same reason. Leverage is a fine noun with a specific meaning but a bad verb and often overused in either sense. The 2001 listing didn’t seem to do much good. Fire another salvo.
Put this on your upcoming list for 2012. Maybe my screed will go viral.