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Annoyed English Instructor Seeks Reformation
March 2004

Yeah. I know. So naturally, I've been whining about grading papers and the dumbshit things that our students come up with Goddess Caroline. This whole mess, bemoaning Repetitive Student Stupidity, sent us spiraling into Deep and Meaningful Pondering of Overused Words and Phrases in general. So, for the record, I'll be happy if I never again hear the following bullcrap:

Smoking Gun: Evocative, isn't it? Well, maybe the FIRST MILLION TIMES IT WAS USED! There're smoking guns in Iraq, smoking guns in Afghanistan, smoking guns in the White House, smoking guns in every branch of world government, and now it seems like everyone's searching for "smoking guns," not evidence. Oh no! "Evidence" is far too boring a term. We need BUZZWORD!

Closure: For the love of God, you just might not GET "closure" on something! Accept that sometimes life gives you unanswered questions! Quit whining!

Nine-Eleven/Nine-One-One: Please don't freakin' commodify a national tragedy with a snappy catch-phrase! The date was September 11. The event was NOT "Nine-Eleven"… it was the Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon building. And, oh, please, I beg, DON'T CALL IT "NINE-ONE-ONE"!

Weapons of Mass Destruction/WMD: 1) Shut up. 2) See the above re: commodification, okay?

Prevenative Measures: I can accept this concept when it refers to, say, birth control. However, it drives me ape-shit when it refers to oft-questionable screening tactics, long-term incarceration without action, or laws with potentially racially/socially unjust undertones. This is one of those phrases that gets a Pavlov-like reaction. Yes! We must take preventative measures against ___ or ____ else we all gonna DIE! That's right, Chicken-Joe-McCarthy-Little, the red sky IS falling and we better take preventative measures or else THEY will git us! P.S. Hey, morons? It's PREVENTIVE! "Preventative" is a different word.

Bling: Please. Using this does not give you street cred. Hell, if you use the word "bling," you have less street cred then Justin Freakin' Timberlake!

Ultimate ____!!/Extreme ____!! You know it's bad when, instead of just being used for sporting events (which was annoying enough), these tags have moved to, like, dish soap (New EXTREME Cleaning Power!) or snack foods (Try our ULTIMATE Nachos!). An overabundance of superlatives just makes me wonder "What was it before, complete shit?" Really, these nacho cheese-flavored chips are THE LAST WORD IN CHIPS, EVAH?! They have reached the SUPREME PINNACLE OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A NACHO CHEESE FLAVORED CHIP and NO OTHER CHIP CAN EVER OR WILL EVER BE ABLE TO COMPETE?! Shut up. And in that same vein, there is…

Take ___ to the Next/a Whole New Level!! I heard a commercial on the radio for a restaurant that claimed they were "taking fajitas to the next level!" Because they've added portabella mushrooms. Oh yeah. Landmark revolutionary groundbreaking FAJITAS! As if. Now if eating fajitas were to cure cancer, okay, that might be taking fajitas to A WHOLE NEW LEVEL!

Pop: The verb, not the noun or adjective, that is. Every time I hear some makeup person blithering that "Using eyeliner this way makes the eyes really pop!" or some decorator person yammering that "The colors of the pillows against the sofa make it really pop!" I want to leap, screaming, from a ten-story balcony. Or worse, "We're going to pop the colors with a striking yellow boarder!" Guh! No! The only things that "pop" are corn, balloons, and pustules.

Disrespect/diss: I don't care if it's an accepted colloquialism; I fucking HATE it! Disrespect is a noun, not a verb. I do not "disrespect" you; I treat you with disrespect. The worst example of "diss" I ever heard of was when Mommy went to visit Sugarbear up in Seattle last spring, and my Dumb Dad was trying to schmooze her into (his words, not mine) "a memory-lane fuck," and when Mother declined that offer, as well as any other offer to hang out with him, Dumb Dad got all pissy and demanded, "Why're you dissin' me?" I told Mom she should've told him that it was because he didn't fizzle her nizzle, fo' shizzle.

Basically: 97% of the time this word is used, it could be omitted entirely. "Well, basically, I went to work that morning." Why do you need to say "basically"? "I went to work that morning." That's all you need. "Basically," as with other padded words, just dilutes your sentence and makes it weak. "Basically, here's what happened." Of COURSE it's "basically" what happened… that's the point of telling the story! But if you throw in a weak pad-word like "basically," it just sounds shifty, and I'm inclined instead to wonder what you're leaving out. "Well, basically, I told her that ____" …which means to me that you're leaving out all the vituperations and expletives that you most likely included. Because when I say, "You fucking insane asshole piece of shit!" I'm "basically" saying "you're crazy." Basically.

Literally: Even worse than basically, this padding-word is usually completely inaccurate as well. "My face was literally melting in this heat!" No it wasn't. It was not LITERALLY melting. "Literally, I could not take another breath!" Yeah you could. You aren't dead, are you? "I was literally flabbergasted!" You were flabbergasted. You don't need to add "literally" to convince me. Lose it.

Hero/Diva: These titles are so easily thrown around that they've lost all meaning. ANY bi-otch who shows 'tude is called a "diva"! ANY person who does something even REMOTELY human is called a "hero"! Lil' Kim is NOT a diva! Every person who lived through that hurricane is NOT a hero!

Instant classic: This is an oxymoron. Period. Hell, "classic" ranks with "hero" and "diva" as something that is so easily used that it's lost any real meaning.

Reality TV: Ditto the oxymoron thing.

Homeland Security: I'm beginning to think this is an oxymoron as well. You know, like "US Intelligence."

Manolo Blahniks: You are not thisclose to being a Hollywood Stah if you wear, or even MENTION, these stupid, trendy, overpriced dumb-shit shoes. They're just SHOES! Shut UP already!

Redefine/reinvent: I'm so sick of hearing every other week that Madonna is "reinventing herself." Funny, back in the 80s and early 90s, we all used to think Madonna's savvy, cutting-edge "reinventing herself!" was just, like, trying out new hair colors or clothes and looking for attention and publicity. Now it's, like, tied to something deeply personal and professional…? Really? (So much so that she's now FOLLOWING the herd and calling her latest concert outing the Re-Invention Tour?) And that new Justin Timberlake is going to "redefine" pop music? A bunch of Michael Jackson knock-offs? Really? Just because something is new doesn't mean it's going to REDEFINE or REINVENT anything.

Soulmate: *sigh*

And now, for One Final Peeve: incorrect use of quotation marks.

Please listen carefully, and take notes if needed.


There must be tens of thousands of signs and advertisements cropping up with continued misuse of quotation marks. All over LA, there's stuff proclaiming "The Best" Tacos! Holiday "Sale"! "Vintage" Furniture! "Daylight Savings" Time. My favorite was a sign posted by the 405 onramp I take every morning to school: "Fresh" Fruit! I used to assume some of it was an ESL problem; there is a high percentage of people in Los Angeles that speak English as their second (or third or fourth) language. But no, that's not it. Somewhere, someone got the idea that quotation marks are to be used interchangeably with bold type or italics as a way of emphasizing a word or words. And between bad websites and horrible SPAM and Pennysaver ads, the problem has compounded beyond belief.

GAH! QUOTATION MARKS SET OFF SPOKEN LANGUAGE OR TITLES OF CERTAIN THINGS! For example: Dylan's favorite poet is Byron, and he zooms around in his Porsche quoting from "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" or repeating Lady Caroline Lamb's famous description of the poet as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." Quotation marks can be used to indicate that a word or phrase is being used in a special way; if you are being ironic or sarcastic, or, using a well-known slogan, or using a simile. For example, like this: The so-called "free concert" last weekend ended up costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands for security and cleanup. Or like this: The Dairy Burger is home of "the best burgers and fries in Sweet Valley!" So, understandably, advertising "Antique" Furniture or "Fresh" Fruit sounds like someone is being snarky about the quality of said goods.

And so sayeth "Professor Dwanollah," "Author" of the "Best" Site on the Web!


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