THE MOTHER TONGUE REVISITED

For better or worse, I was born in this country and so my mother tongue is the language of the Anglo-Saxons. Those of us who speak the English language are quite fortunate in that the language of the Anglo-Saxons has now become the lingua franca of the world. Perhaps one of the reasons for the English language to maintain such a paramount position has to do with the fact that it is a rich language that seems to welcome additions to its vocabulary.

From time to time in these essays, I have commented on the additions to the language and such will be the case in the following essay. I want to make it clear that some of the additions to the language are nothing less than atrocious and bastardizations. I will leave it to my readers to distinguish between those that they will welcome into the language and those that they wish to reject. This essay will be devoted to several newcomers to the Mother Tongue.

So let us start with some of the new words that we find in newscasts and often in print. The first word or phrase is “looking forward” or “moving forward.” “Looking forward” is a term dear to the heart of nearly every politician that I have heard in the past six or eight months. There is no such thing as “looking backwards.” We should all go forward by looking forward. The former press secretary to Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs, is a major offender when it comes to the phrase “looking forward.” So, as a progressive, I have no choice but to look forward hourly and when tomorrow comes, I will still be in a position to look forward again.

The second word which has beleaguered the English language is “transparent or transparencies.” This is nothing more than an attempt by politicians to say that they are being honest with us. As we all know, politicians are not all that honest even though they contend that their propositions are fully transparent. Perhaps we should say that we are looking forward to an honest politician who does not need to tell us that his proposals are always transparent.

Now we come to an entirely new phrase that has me largely baffled. The term is “skin in the game.” I assume that it means that there is some risk involved as in the case of a wager at the race track or participation in an election. The term seems to suggest that only those who are involved and taking a risk may be heard from. Perhaps this is a restricted construction about skin in the game but, as I said, it leaves me largely baffled. I see no future for skin in the game and hope that it dies a peaceful death soon because it is a bastardization of the language.

The next term makes a lot more sense. That term is “optics.” When Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy, fools around with teen-age show girls, the “optics” to most Italians and the rest of the world are atrocious. But Berlusconi will not take my advice. The show girls that he toys with are not only in their teens, but may well be simply prostitutes. Berlusconi should resign the Premiership and join the Assumption Abbey Monastery in Ava, Missouri, a group that observes silence and makes the best fruitcakes known to man or beast.

Now we come to what I consider a bastardly phrasing in the English language. It has to do with the term “referencing.” When someone sticks a gun in my ribs and robs me, I refer it to the police. I don’t “reference” the police department. Why this term has gained popularity, particularly in the circles around Hillary Clinton, is a mystery to me. For all these years, we have gotten along with “refer to” as opposed to being “referenced.” So I say that we should reject this term before it goes further.

There is also the matter of “partnering” which Mrs. Clinton and others seem to favor. Partnering is an obvious term but I do not see that it improves upon someone saying this fellow over here is my partner as opposed to saying that we are partnering. I think this comes close to being a bastardization of the Mother Tongue.

Another new term we hear almost constantly is the term “focus like a laser.” Politicians love to “focus like a laser” but that term does not endear me to such a politician. Focusing like a laser is the careless man’s way of saying that he will pay attention to the details of the proposition to be considered. This is another bastardization.

And that brings us to a term that is baffling to me called “one off.” It was used the other night during the State of the Union address when politicians of different parties sat next to each other. The question is, “Is this a one-off arrangement or will we go back to the seating arrangement that was seen in previous years?” I see no future for the term “one off.” I believe it should go by the boards along with “skin in the game.”

Here is another Hillaryism. Mrs. Clinton is an avid devotee of the term “tasked.” It means that you assigned responsibility. Being tasked is popular in political circles in our nation’s capital. But that word is sort of an abortion in our language.

Now we come to the term “incentivizing.” I had two friends from the Australian Telecommunications Authority who appointed the three of us to oversee new words for the English language. One was Randolph Payne, and the other was John Hampton. Randy is deceased now and John has retired and seems to have left no forwarding address. Randy and John and your old friend Ezra would consider “incentivizing” as thorough and complete bastardizations of the Mother Tongue. It should not be repeated within my range of hearing.

Next is the term “doubling down.” I had always assumed that the term came from the race tracks. If a man lost his wager on the first race, he would double the bet on the second race to make up for his loss. But now we find that doubling down has to do with such things as Obama’s sending more troops to Afghanistan. According to observers, which do not include me, Obama is doubling down on the war in Afghanistan. I believe this to be an atrocious construction.

Now we come to the term, “under the bus.” It has to do with abandoning friends of long standing. For example, when we abandoned our support for Hosni Mubarak, commentators would say that the U.S. has thrown Mubarak “under the bus.” I believe that this construction has the ability to stand the test of time.

There is a television program which states that, as the program nears its end, we are “approaching the shallow end.” I assume that this comes from swimming and pools where there is a deep end and on the other end of the pool is the “shallow end.” As in the case of throwing someone under the bus, this construction has a happy future.

Finally we come to the term “getting under the hood.” It has to do, for example, with the Federal budget which appears at this time of year. Getting into the details or under the hood of the budgetary details might also be called “getting into the weeds.” It strikes me that, once again, as in the case of putting someone under the bus, this construction may be with us for awhile.

There you have more than a dozen new constructions of the Mother Tongue. Some are laudable, some are middle of the road-ish, and some are plain bastardizations of the language. I said earlier that I would leave it to my readers to accept or reject those terms, but I believe my prejudices are clear for all to see. If someone were to use the phrase “skin in the game” or “tasked” in a conversation with me, I would call for the cops.

E. E. CARR
January 30, 2011

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I notice that the two car-related sayings make it through without issue — I’m gonna say that’s filling station bias, right there.
On a somewhat unrelated note, a friend of mine has made a whole career out of focusing lasers. Many lasers, it turns out, have massive focus issues, which probably isn’t what that phrase is going for.

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