Over the past dozen years or so, a certain herd mentality seems to have evolved surrounding our use of the English language. Dismayingly, the trend has been particularly pronounced among some who use language as a primary tool of their trade.
Political reporters fell in love with the word “gravitas” in the early 2000s, and for a while it seemed reporters couldn’t describe a politician without a reference to his/her gravitas or lack thereof. Gravitas seemed mainly bestowed by the reporters themselves and directly proportional to the recipient’s number of appearances on their respective networks’ Sunday morning talk shows. A few years later, the word “ultimately” and the phrase “in the final analysis” were universally discarded by these same reporters and replaced by “at the end of the day.” Reports even on events occurring in early morning hours were scripted to include a brief summation, a summation invariably introduced by the obligatory “at the end of the day…” More recently, we have been assaulted by repeated use of the word “withering.” Thankfully, the reporters are unaware of all but two circumstances in which the word can be cogently used: as a modifier of “attack” or “criticism.” Every single report we see concerning a verbal attack by one politician upon another makes reference not to just an attack. It has to be a withering attack. And even the slightest criticism must always be withering criticism. One could offer a million dollar reward, with zero risk of having to pay it, for recent footage of a reporter discussing criticism without calling it withering. Reporters seem compelled to use these same descriptions repeatedly, until they have drained every ounce of freshness and originality from them…and still they use them, and continue to use them, until the newest fad word comes along. One can’t help but wonder if the practice is somehow tied to their compensation.
Sports reporters have their own, seemingly proprietary, affectations: the appropriately specific phrase “in this game” is apparently verboten. Instead, we hear, “on the day,” as in, “Manning has thrown three touchdown passes on the day,” the meaning of which is now, due to incessant usage, widely understood by viewers, but it must have caused mass confusion the first few times it was heard. Worse, no viewers will ever get to hear, “Georgia Tech needs to make this third down conversion.” Rather, we must sit through, “If you are Georgia Tech, you really want to make this third down conversion.” While such wordy nonsense might slightly lessen the frequency of momentary “dead air” broadcasts, the image of a single listener morphing into an entire sports team, even analogously, is difficult to conjure. I ain’t Georgia Tech, you dumbass. Nor is anyone else.