Monday, July 04, 2016

Recent Idioms I Wish We'd Abandon

I realize that part of getting old is to feel somewhat annoyed as a regular state of mind.  I also realize that our normal usage of English changes over time.  Expressions come into vogue.  Yet some of my annoyance is directed at some recent said expressions, which I perceive to be pernicious in a variety of ways.  Here are several of those, along with some explanation of what bothers me about them.

I'm excited...

This is offered up in lieu of:  I'm pleased, or I'm happy, or I'm delighted.  The alternatives convey something about one's mental state; it is positive, upbeat.  In contrast, I'm excited refers to both body and mind.  It conjures up a job interview and what the candidate tells the recruiter during the interview.  Indeed, that is why we should stop using it.  Implicitly the users are selling something.  We've become a nation of sales people.  Do we really believe that is a good development?  There may be instances where I'm excited is appropriate - winning the lottery or having some other good fortune shine on you.  However, after careful deliberation from examining evidence and coming to a reasoned conclusion, it is the wrong way to report on the results.  If we could separate these two situations I'd be okay keeping its more limited usage.  Barring that, I prefer we purge it altogether.

I'm fighting for...

This is used by politicians who are soliciting campaign contributions or simply updating their constituencies about their recent doings or their upcoming activities.  It may also be used by corporate leaders who are talking about activities to position their companies.  And it is used in the sports context where the competition is equated to a brawl.  Isn't there enough violence in society already?  Why do we need to recast interactions where (we hope) the person is making a reasoned argument as a fight.  Does this expression become code for - I can't really accomplish anything because of the gridlock so instead I'm going to shoot my mouth off as a collective form of venting - and if so do we really want our political leaders to be doing that?  If we got rid of this expression altogether, might more politicians engage in the quiet, behind the scenes type of negotiation that actually produced legislation?  Nowadays, the urge to vent is omnipresent.  Getting the rabble into the frenzy is not a difficult thing to do.  But is there a social benefit?  Wouldn't we all be better off if people calmed down?

Powerful (woman, female)

This one may be an idiom in the making.  I've only seen it a few times.  For example, it can be found at this list complied by Forbes to rank women in this category.  I first encountered the expression when a female student used it in my class while writing about her alias, Elinor Ostrom.  Ostrom, now deceased, was a Nobel Prize winner, sharing the award with Oliver Williamson, and a scholar who produced insight about governance of organizations helps to enable organizations to function well.  I have known personally three other Nobel prize winners and I wouldn't used the label 'powerful' to describe any of them.  I might call them brilliant, or prolific scholars, or deep thinkers, but I would not call them powerful.  Does this asymmetric usage in Ostrom's case make sense because she was a woman?

In yesterday's Week In Review there was a column by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend called, What Should a Powerful Woman Look Like?   It too was an odd column in its use of the label powerful, though I think it was getting a serious question.  All of us need exemplars of good behavior, people we try to emulate because they inspire us by who they are and what they have accomplished.  The issue here is whether powerful should serve as a label for such people, if they are women.  The asymmetric usage is again disturbing to me.  Think of the George W. Bush presidency.  Both Cheney and Rumsfeld were powerful, no doubt.  But in my book they were horrible leaders.  Likewise, the President was powerful but also known to go with his gut.  He made egregious mistakes.  He was not a good President.

Underlying this is the question of leadership and what makes for a good leader.  There are two distinct notions extant.  The older one has a military connotation, the general who commands his troops.  Jack Nicholson gives an excellent portrayal of this view in A Few Good Men.  In this case it is frequently coupled with intense egotism and a monomaniacal disposition.  The more modern view of leadership, in contrast, is somebody who is broadly consultative, a consensus builder, and especially a good listener.  Hillary Clinton actually has a strong reputation as somebody who could engage in deep concentration during conversation.  This is clearly a strength that she would bring to the Presidency, if she is elected. But would you call her powerful as a consequence?  I fear, instead, that women who want good exemplars will do so, without regard for whether it also elevates the older notion of leadership, when we really should be putting that puppy to bed.


I find I'm texting more these days.   Having switched to a Mac, the application Messages makes it easier to do.  And I was told, in particular, for mentoring that students like it more than email so it is a way to get closer to one's mentee.  I don't mind the use of emoji in this setting, if they fit the thread.  But LOL is different.  It seems to be used when the person knows that a response is necessary but the person doesn't have an appropriate response at hand.  That isn't funny. 

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Got It Out of My System

This one I actually like.  In writing up the others I don't feel annoyed know.  I hope for the reader, it is likewise. 

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