Well, I was going to write about dead batteries, but perhaps that can happen tomorrow. Today I need to address a much more serious problem facing us at this time in our history – actually, it happens at every time in history, but for now, we have to do something about certain words and phrases that have crept into our language that we must stop using. We must stop. Please.
Now, I must admit that I am only one in a long line of persons who have detested “cool phrases” – like that one. They have been around forever, it seems. Just a couple of selections through the centuries: 1600s – to be “chirping merry” meant that you were feeling good while drinking with your friends. 1700s – if you are a “molly,” that meant that you were an effeminate man. You did not want to go near the “sheriff’s picture frame,” since that was code for the gallows. And if you “sluice your gob,” then you have taken a big swig of a drink. Lots of phrases about alcohol, I guess. The 1800s brought the phrase, “the bottom fact,” which we now call “the bottom line” in a discussion. If we really made a go of things, it would be a “lally cooler” or a real success.
Of course, the 1920s and on brought lots more words, like “23 skidoo” which meant to leave quickly, or at just the right time, or “Oh You Kid” which was really a song with the words, “I love my wife – but oh, you Kid!” Kind of tells you what might happen next.
The 1950s brought tons of new phrases – and not many very good. Daddio, made in the shade, ginchiest (meaning most beautiful), smog in the noggin (I forget), hip cat, wig chop (haircut) and of course, cruisin’ for a bruising…
Now, I’m sure there are hundreds more words and phrases I could have selected through the years. This year, it seems, and going back just a couple of years, did bring some of the more obnoxious phrases and words I believe have ever been uttered – these just seemed to rise to the top:
An entire category came into being when it became the habit, especially in meetings and around offices, to turn almost every noun into a verb. “Let’s calendar that,” “Let me flipchart that for you,” “we should dialogue about that,” or even “Let’s workshop that idea.” Perhaps the worst was, “I hunch” – not “I have a hunch” which is a feeling based on a guess, but instead, using a verb which originally meant to “raise your shoulders and bend your body forward,” as you hunch over – I remember sitting around a table and imagining everyone hunching, as though they had a hump in their back.
Phrases that have come up this year include “It’s not in my wheelhouse.” This is a part of a boat or ship that shelters the person at the “wheel” – now it’s supposed to mean “I don’t know what I’m doing?” We now apparently “binge” all sorts of things, when before it meant as a mental disorder to uncontrollably consume food or drink to a huge excess. Now it’s watching a lot of tv shows in a row. When we are in a committee meeting, sure enough, in the middle of a discussion someone will suggest we “put a pin in it,” whatever “it” is, which means we no longer talk about whatever “it” is, unless of course we “circle back,” after we have taken some time to “think outside the box,” or “take a 30,000 foot view.” Friends – all these are dumb phrases, which are supposed to make you sound “hip” or “groovy” or “with it,” but no – just dumb.
But if we aren’t careful, we will end up “siloing.” Yep – we will end up taking another noun, and turning it into the work of filling a grain bin with wheat or corn or such… Oh no – it means I do my work in my area of expertise and responsibility, when I should instead be ‘harmonizing” and “aligning” so that everyone “is on the same page.”
A particularly pernicious term being used lately is really a nod to good old racism. Someone – and it’s usually someone with a strong liberal aura – will say, “I know this person – he’s from a different tribe, but…” which could be said, “he comes from a different background, or a different organization” – but now, we have to use a term that is truly specific to particular community or culture. Even in biology, it is a category above genus, and below family. Now, once again, it is “rad” or “with it” to use it in an over simplified background reference.
There are a couple of other phrases that I have come to detest. One, of course, is a gift of our pandemic – “social distancing.” It’s a phrase that I am sure will last throughout the centuries, but it is an oxymoron. How can I possibly interact with you, but I have to stay so far away? That is, of course, unless you are of the Scandinavian bent, where here in North Dakota, two phrases have arisen: North Dakota – social distancing since 1889.” Or “Don’t ya tink dat six feet is yust a bit too close?” I expect if this disease goes on too long, that we will all be handed buzzers and flashing light that are radar triggered if we get too close in a grocery store…
The other phrase that I truly do hate is “It is what it is.” Actually, this phrase seems to have first been used in 1949 in an article that described pioneer life in Nebraska. It was harsh, hated anything weak, but there was no sham about living in that environment. The writer wrote, “It is what it is,” without apology. The phrase has come to mean “there’s nothing we can do about it.” It’s a defeat-mentality, where we give up any power or energy to overcome a situation. I remember talking once with a United States senator, and we were discussing nuclear arms buildup and the tension with the Soviet Union. When I asked him how he would be voting on a nuclear arms bill, his response was, “What can you do?” I was stunned – and it wasn’t until later when I realized I should have said, “Sir – you are one of 100 people in this entire world who CAN do something!” Had he been alive today, he would have probably told me, “It is what it is.” If you are a person who has courage, and the willingness to not just address an issue, but work to overcome it, then please exile this phrase to the far corner of your mind.
Now – not to leave you with doom and gloom, I do have a few phrases that seem to be worth keeping, and using as we can. There are four of them, and I will leave them with you, without comment. They speak for themselves:
We’ll get through this together.
I care about you.
Wear your mask.
Live intentionally folks – and use your language to change our world.
Word for the day: mettlesome. Pronounced pretty much like it is spelled: MET-ul-sum. It’s amazing what two pairs of letters can do to change words and their meaning. A word we often will hear or use, is “meddlesome,” from the early French medler, or the Latin miscere, which means “to mix or mingle.” Someone who spends all their time trying to mingle in the lives of others, or to mix in their own particular opinions is a “meddlesome” person, and someone to be avoided.
When someone is “mettlesome,” however, we are referring to the stuff of their makeup – their “mettle,” which from the 1600s was an alternate use of “metal.” A mettlesome person has an unbroken spirit – lively – willing to face danger. You see life shining through in a mettlesome person. Always look for that courageous, mettlesome individual.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.