Words and Metaphors, Overused and Dead : I PWN You

GITMO — The US military’s shorthand for a base in Cuba drives a wedge wider than a split infinitive.

COMBINED CELEBRITY NAMES — Celebrity duos of yore — BogCall (Bogart and Bacall), Lardy (Laurel and Hardy), and CheeChong (Cheech and Chong) — just got lucky.

AWESOME — Given a one-year moratorium in 1984, when the Unicorn Hunters banished it “during which it is to be rehabilitated until it means ‘fear mingled with admiration or reverence; a feeling produced by something majestic.” Many write to tell us there’s no hope and it’s time for “the full banishment.”

GONE/WENT MISSING — “It makes ‘missing’ sound like a place you can visit, such as the Poconos. Is the person missing, or not? She went there but maybe she came back. ‘Is missing’ or ‘was missing’ would serve us better.” — Robin Dennis, Flower Mound, Texas.

PWN or PWNED — Thr styff of lemgendz: Gamer defeats gamer, types in “I pwn you” rather than I OWN you.

NOW PLAYING IN THEATERS — Heard in movie advertisements. Where can we see that, again?

WE’RE PREGNANT — Grounded for nine months.

UNDOCUMENTED ALIEN — “If they haven’t followed the law to get here, they are by definition ‘illegal.’ It’s like saying a drug dealer is an ‘undocumented pharmacist.'” — John Varga, Westfield, New Jersey.

ARMED ROBBERY/DRUG DEAL GONE BAD — From the news reports. What degree of “bad” don’t we understand? Larry Lillehammer of Bonney Lake, Washington, asks, “After it stopped going well and good?”

TRUTHINESS – “This word, popularized by The Colbert Report and exalted by the American Dialectic Society’s Word of the Year in 2005 has been used up. What used to ring true is getting all the truth wrung out of it.” — Joe Grimm, Detroit, Michigan.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — The chewable vitamin morphine of marketing.

CHIPOTLE – Smoked dry over medium heat.

i-ANYTHING — ‘e-Anything’ made the list in 2000. Geoff Steinhart of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, says tech companies everywhere have picked this apple to the core. “Turn on…tune in…and drop out.”

SEARCH — Quasi-anachronism. Placed on one-year moratorium.

HEALTHY FOOD — Point of view is everything.

BOASTS — See classified advertisements for houses, says Morris Conklin of Lisboa, Portugal, as in “master bedroom boasts his-and-her fireplaces — never ‘bathroom apologizes for cracked linoleum,’ or ‘kitchen laments pathetic placement of electrical outlets.'”

I was going to include only the top ten but this list of Banished Words, compiled each year by the Lake Superior State University, is too good to cut short. (I did cut out of some of the comments for the sake of brevity.) My main quibble is with Truthiness, which I think is still relevant. But, OK, maybe if we use it lightly this year we can go back to it when we need it.

Oh, I and I think they got “google” and “search” reversed. Let’s go back to search and stop using “to google.” I never liked “to email” either, by the way. It is both ugly and unnecessary. Did we ever say, I “lettered” someone, outside of High School sports? I think it’s fine to say, “I will send you a note.” At this point, we can assume the medium is email.
I imagine, too, that some people will be upset about the inclusion of “undocumented worker,” given the racist over-tones and history of “illegal alien.” I think this is a loosing fight that can only impede the creation of a system of free migration in the Southwest U.S. People have long moved north and south, from Mexico into the United States, and back again, and the problem is not the seasonal migration but the laws that have attempted to criminalize this behavior.

I think we should avoid “undocumented worker,” which sounds euphemistic, and simply say, “migrant worker,” or “Mexican migrant workers.” “Immigrant” is fine but often sounds as if the speaker or writer was trying to avoid something. It is important to remember that much of the current “problem”– the re-definition of these migration patterns as a problem, and the criminalization of migrants of whatever nationality– has its origins in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

I don’t it’s useful to quibble over whether or not these folks are here illegally. Thanks to a specific set of measures (many passed in the mid 1990s), they did in fact break the law by crossing the border. Many gay men and women and African Americans and all sorts of people also broke laws, either inadvertently or because they thought the laws were unjust.

Instead of continuing to use what is only a marginal more palatable euphemism, we should amend current law (and probably simply abandon N.A.F.T.A.) to stop the criminalization of the simple act of migrating north for work. And, of course, we can support those movements in the south that promote social and economic justice. You can go here, for a start.


About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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