Every year, Time magazine names its “Person of the Year.” I’ve decided to start my own tradition and select the “Phrase of the Year.” Or, maybe I should call it the “Overused Phrase of the Year.”
This year’s winner, hands down, is “fiscal cliff.” The term has been used so often, especially during these last two months, that it’s become like fingernails scratching down a chalkboard.
I’m not sure of the entire history of the term, but I believe that Federal Reserve Chairmen Ben Barnanke was the first person to use it.
It’s one of those phrases that newsmen love. It’s an easy way to condense all the complexity of a situation into a simple term that anybody can understand. What’s a cliff? I think of it as a high rock structure, with a long fall to the bottom, which would almost certainly be fatal. When I think of going over the cliff, I think of those rodents, called lemmings, that supposedly run off cliffs in swarms and fall to their deaths. I understand that’s not true, but it’s still what I associate with cliffs.
We have a few more days in the year to hear about the fiscal cliff. Come Jan. 1, if no budget deal is reached, somebody will have to come up with a new term about what happens after you go over this imaginary cliff. Maybe you avert a disaster by using your “golden parachute.”
For people who need to know more about the fiscal cliff in simplified terms, I recommend a book called “Fiscal Cliff Notes.”
Naturally, fiscal cliff had to be the “Phrase of the Year” winner, but there’s a lot of other obnoxious phrases and buzzwords I’ve heard that should be considered close runner-ups.
One I find very irritating is “transparency.” It used to mean something you can see through. Now, politicians have stolen the word and have changed its meaning to “being open.”
“I’m all for transparency in government,” the politician claims. Does that mean that all government buildings will have more windows?
I think it means that you can’t fool the public when it comes to politicians and their meaningless rhetoric. Politicians are transparent because we can “see right through them.”
Another phrase that’s being used too much by the TV newsmen is “push back.” I always thought it was a simplified description of school kids getting into a shoving match on the playground. The newsmen are using it now as a substitute for a more descriptive word, “resist.”
But an even stranger use of “push back” is as a substitution for the word “delay.”
A reporter may say, “The meeting that was scheduled for Dec. 26 has been pushed back to Jan. 10.”
I find that confusing. If the event has been rescheduled into the future, I would call that “pushed forward” instead of “pushed back.” But delay is a much better word.
Another phrase that’s been around awhile and irks me is “went missing.” I don’t know why newsmen can’t say somebody disappeared. (Just don’t say they disappeared into thin air. It seems to me that people would more likely disappear into thick air.)
The term “went missing” makes it sound like the person planned it, which is not often the case. They usually “become missing” because it was someone else’s action.
Maybe the Mayan calendar myth put an end to the “end of the world” phrase, but I doubt it.
See you all on the other side of the fiscal cliff.
Jones is a Carrollton resident and reporter for the Times-Georgian.