I’m well aware that in writing this article I’ll be told to “get a life, Boomer”, how language is constantly evolving and, yes, there are worse concerns in the world than those of modern parlance. Nevertheless, the following represent a cross-section of the most irritating modern expressions.
Trigger: We appear to have become as trigger-happy today as in the Wild West. Time was when inflation “caused” a demand for pay rises but now this is no longer the case when inflation “triggers” a demand for pay rises. To prevent us from being triggered, we now need trigger-warnings.
Journey’s end: For some unknown reason everyone today must be on some sort of journey. This is not simply a journey to Cork, but a parenting journey, a friendship journey, a fitness journey, a self-discovery journey. Even celebs on Dancing with the Stars tell of their journeys. I have heard of so many journeys now that I feel an overwhelming need to journey to the fridge for a can of Guinness.
Reach out: When the Bell telephone company released an advertisement in 1979 “Reach out and touch someone” they were unaware that this dreadful expression would grow legs and enter the mainstream, replacing such perfectly adequate verbs as contact, be in touch, get in touch, call and so on. Now we have journalists writing articles about how they reached out to XY and Z while letters and emails arrive with the following: “Dear Sir/Madam, We are reaching out to you because…”.
I once danced to the Four Tops’ Reach Out I’ll Be There but little did I dream the expression would come back to terrorise me all those years later. Some argue “reach out” is more affectionate than “contact”, but it still sets my teeth on edge.
Going forward: Is it possible to go in any other direction than forward? This is yet another dreaded American corporate term, meaning from here on, or in the future. Some would argue it allows a certain vagueness about when events may take place, for example, in business – so perhaps this is why it is now favoured by politicians. The sooner the term is fast-forwarded, the better for all concerned.
Call out: In Western films gunslingers would regularly call one another out into the street for a showdown. Teachers called out a naughty student for punishment, or someone’s name was simply called out on a register.
For some strange reason, however, these notions have merged (no doubt from an American base) and we now hear the expression used when to decry, challenge, or question, is intended. “I intend to call out your toxic masculinity!” I often wonder what would the response be if a politician replied, “Do you mean challenge?” This, however, is unlikely to happen as moving with the times is important and calling out outdated jargon is essential.
Robust: Once robust meant strong and healthy, as in describing the fitness of a GAA team. Now it has morphed several times from describing a Burgundy wine to the resilience of a computer programme. From the Latin word “robur” for hard timber, suggesting strength, robust has been beaten to death by broadcasters and politicians almost daily. “There was a robust discussion in the Dáil today as the opposition called out the Government on the National Maternity Hospital.” While my brain may be robust, there is only so much robust punishment it can take.
Replicate: To replicate is to make an exact copy of something, or to duplicate it. The verb has become used increasingly now where what is meant is to repeat. For example: “The same mistake was replicated by students throughout the country today because of an ambiguous exam question.” Here repeated would have made much more sense. So much replication is now threatening the life of the verb repeat. Perhaps it should be on the endangered verbs list.
While we may depend on the Americans to defend us if the Russians decided to invade, it might be no harm to deploy an anti-American vocabulary missile system in advance since our friends Stateside have done the English language no favours with such abominations as “any which way” (any way), “normalcy” (normality), “I’m done” (I’m finished – now widespread among young people. I always ask ‘Are you well done or medium rare?’), “I’m good” (I’m well – also gone viral!). However, as they say, If you can’t beat them join them.
Dr Declan Collinge’s book Through Streets Broad and Narrow: Voices of Dublin is published next spring