Possibly the most encouraging news to emerge in the final days of 2010 came out of Michigan's Lake Superior State University.
Every year, that worthy institution issues a formal "List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness." When I first heard of this, I wept. Thankfully, no one was around to see because I went totally John Boehner, all squirrely-chinned and boobery. I couldn't help myself, I was so overwhelmed with a re-awakened admiration for what human beings can accomplish when they get sick enough of something. Seriously, I'd always thought that once our popular culture had allowed another scrap of vocabular junk into the trendyosphere, we were stuck with it forever.
And then I find out it's not just me who gets so irritated upon hearing the same noxious verbal flop over and over and over that sometimes I'm not sure I can resist the urge to rip my computer from its moorings and heave it through my television screen and then cram a year's worth of People magazines into the ragged hole and then dowse the whole rotten, trite, unimaginative mess with gasoline and then ... er ... uh, well, I'll bet you've felt that urge, yourself, huh? Right?
Anyway, I cannot let the occasion pass without expressing my gratitude to the Lake Superior people for what they have done for us. Among the words and expressions we will never hear again, thanks to them, are "live life to the fullest" (as though people need to be reminded not to live life to the emptiest), "mamma grizzlies" and "refudiate," (both thrust upon us by an individual who has yet to demonstrate she can even read the words she makes up), and "man up," a phrase that has became a derisive, emasculating sneer among certain female politicians who, even in non-campaign mode, would make discerning men question why they ever thought heterosexuality was so great in the first place.
Also banished from all future usage are "BFF," (a short-handed way of saying "best friend forever" by youngsters who I suspect have already forgotten what the abbreviation stands for), and "wow factor," a turn of speech so dumb that upon hearing it for the first time, all I could think was "wow." And should you ever again be tempted to utter the phrase "going viral," you'd better be damn sure there is a real virus involved.
However, now that I have learned such a noble mission as banning dopey mouth droppings from our dear language is doable, I wish to spend the rest of this page encouraging the LSSU language crew to broaden its scope. They have almost a full year before another banishment list is due, so I reckon they have time to compile a catalog of dialogue that should never again be allowed to show up in either film or television. I'm talking about utterances so drained of any humor, originality or significance that simple banishment is too good for them. They should be throttled beyond resuscitation and buried in the desert.
I'd like to suggest the team starts this project with "I'm too old for this shit." Have we not heard that line enough? Should any writer ever use this lazy excuse for dialogue again, he should be fined substantially and sentenced to community service--preferably, at some task he is indeed too old for. (Fairly or unfairly, I associate that all-too-familiar plaint with Bruce Willis. I can't swear he actually said it in any movie, but were you to close your eyes and imagine a blank face delivering the line, your subconscious would naturally fill in a picture of Bruce, all sweaty and banged-up and beleaguered. Try it and you'll see what I mean.)
"Let's do this thing" must also be sent to the cliche boneyard. It no longer matters what "this thing" is that the characters might be assigned to "do," not as long as the doing is preceded by such an overly used and pompously macho pronouncement. (I can't help but feel pity for anyone who would still say "Let's do this thing." All the hip, with-it people know that anymore, whenever you must begin a difficult or dangerous task by uttering something pompously macho, you would say "Let's git 'er done"--which is itself nearing the end of its life span.)
"Is that all you got?" is another case. That line should have been put out to stud when Chris Farley died. "That's gotta hurt," "That'll leave a mark," and "He'll feel that in the morning" are all variations on a mighty tired theme. Whoever is still scripting this raggedy gag has at some point switched over to auto-writing and vacated the creativity cockpit. If that is all they got, I advise they take up a new line of work. Perhaps writing press releases for municipal agencies, a job that requires no imagination whatsoever.
"Now that's what I'm talkin' about" is precisely the sort of hackneyed hokum I'm talking about: "What we have is a perfect storm of ________(fill in blank)" has become a perfect storm of banality. And finally, "That's just wrong" is long past its expiration date. To ever use it again would be ... well ... just wrong.
Maybe at a later date, I can explain to newscasters and sports announcers how a "roller coaster ride" of this or that has become a merry-go-round ride of stale tedium, or why to continually say "thinking outside the box" is the exact opposite of thinking outside the box.
But for now, I must close, content to have given the LSSU team something more to sink their teeth int ... I mean, to roll up their sleeves and get to wor ... I mean, to tackle head o ... Dammit! My fresh expressions tank just ran dry. I knew I was low, but I thought I could get to the end of this column. Oh, well.