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The phrases we could do without

The Examiner

It seems odd that a badly overused metaphor – war – has been largely overlooked when describing one of the biggest non-war crises in decades.

War is the trite and often inappropriate metaphor for sports. The game itself is a contrivance, full of its own jargon and its sport’s history. Why gild the lily, such as it is?

Jeff Fox

And politicians can’t help themselves, feeling the need to pump up support for the crisis of the day. But the war on drugs didn’t work, and it hurt a lot of people. The war on poverty had its successes – and its unintended consequences. Almost half a century ago, we had an energy crisis that a president called the moral equivalent of war, and we immediately chose surrender.

So maybe history suggests caution on this point. Still, if we had assumed a wartime-on-the-homefront footing – at least that mentality of toughness, shared sacrifice, persistence, unity and hope – as the pandemic spread and spread, it’s fair to assume things would be going better.

Oh well. It is the new year, so we shake off old habits and embrace our newer, better selves.

Of course we do.

The dear folks at Lake Superior State University in Michigan have words of advice on this. Specifically, they have words and phrases to not use, or I should say not use going forward.

“Going forward” is the kind of precious phrase – trendy, meaningless – that usually makes the university’s Banished Words List, assaults on the language that ought to be given a rest because of “overuse, misuse or uselessness.” This started as a lark in the university’s PR department decades ago, and now the university takes nominations.

The 2021 list is underwhelming. Apparently COVID – and media chatter about COVID – is what people have on their minds. The top two of just 10 items on the list are COVID-19 and social distancing. Those two aren’t going anywhere.

OK, I’ll give you, No. 3, “We’re all in this together,” which we’re all just tired of and which clearly not everyone even believes. So give points for highlighting a phrase that’s both fatuous and misleading. Same for No. 5 “in these uncertain times” and No. 7 “unprecedented.”

Let’s pivot to the few non-COVID phrases on the list. “Pivot” is a solid No. 6, and yeah it’s a bit overused, but it’s no worse than “turn the page” or “time to move on,” unconvincing euphemisms for “I’m done reflecting on and talking about the stupid thing I said or criminal thing I did, and you should be too.”

The chirpy “I know, right?” is No. 10, though it seems harmless and destined to pass soon enough like past honorees such as “epic,” “fail,” “it’s a good thing,” “at the end of the day” and, let’s not forget, “get ’er done.”

Lake Superior State is doing a public service, and sometimes it seems to be ahead of the times. After all, “new normal” made the list in 2012.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at