Paul Farhi on Pop Culture: Banning overused words and catchphrases plus worst new commercial

Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi was online Tuesday, Jan. 5, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the latest news and topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

Today: "It is what it is." "Going forward." "Facts on the ground." It's a new year -- can we please banish these phrases once and for all? Join us for a discussion of the words and catchphrases that must be banned, stat. Also: The worst new commercial of the new year (yes, only five days old).


Paul Farhi: Greetings, all. and happiest of new years/decades to you(good to have that last outta here, no?). Before we move on from the 'Aughts, however, I'd like to take this opportunity(*) to say a few words about words. Under my administration, I promise you that my Ministry of Talking Real Good would be empowered to banish these words and phrases from the land(and please send me your candidates as well):

--"It is what it is." Yes, everyone hates this one. Except maybe the many people who are still saying it.

--"Facts on the ground." How about just "the facts"? Why do they have to be "on the ground"?

--"Going forward." Please. Stop.

--"That said." Larry David had a hilarious take on this. As he noted (in a way much funnier than I'll render it here), "that said" usually precedes the insult and hostility that the speaker tried avoid in the first place. Frankly, let's NOT retire this one--it's so revealing of a speaker's false restraint and truly insidious intent.

--"At the end of the day." This one is an un-golden oldie. It's a cliche that simply refuses to die. People who utter this sound like old folk who think they sound young. They don't. Ditto: "Don't go there."

--"Hat tip." The preferred internet way of saying, "I stole this information/idea/joke/whatever from someone else but at least I'm properly crediting them." Unless you actually wear a hat that can be tipped, time to dream up a new phrase. (For some of these entries, I give a hat tip to Slate's Ron Rosenbaum).

--"Not so much." Yeah, enough of that.

--"Just sayin'."

--"Version 2.0 (or 3.0 or whatever). It was dorky and awkward and fake-cool when first applied to computer products. It's much, much dorkier when extended to people or non-tech products.

--(*) "I would like to take this opportunity to..." Truly one of the most unnecessary phrases in the language. You already have the floor; no need to waste everyone's time by declaring your "opportunity." Redpencil this, please.

--"In space." This is a relatively new way for football play-by-play guys to say that someone is unguarded or open. But what's wrong with saying "unguarded" or "open"? "In space" sounds like somewhere Apollo 11 went. And another football one:

--Referring repeatedly to "football" during football games. Announcers do this all the time, too: "He's a great football player." "That's how you win football games." "They have to run the football." Yeah, it's FOOTBALL. We get it.

One more thing: Here's the year's first, well, stunning commercial. It's for Domino's (a shorter version is around somewhere but I can't find it):

Why is this stunning? Because it does everything that advertising isn't supposed to do. It essentially says, "We admit it: Our pizza has been terrible." It also implicitly says, "And, oh, by the way, everything we've ever told you about how good our pizza is for the past 30 years? Yeah, we just discovered that wasn't really true."

Well, thanks for mentioning that, Domino's. But you JUST discovered that people don't like the taste of your pizza? This NEVER came up before?

Some people might find this kind of corporate frankness refreshing, but you have to wonder about the greater risks, which are: a) You've just reinforced a very negative perception about your product; and b) You've just insulted everyone who actually likes your product, and c) Why should I trust you now?

I mean, is it a good idea to associate the words "cardboard" and "pizza" in your ads if you're a pizza company? Couldn't you just tell people that the pizza was okay before, but now--now!--it's really, really good?

Companies do this from time to time. Surely there's got to be a name for these sorts of self-lacerating ads. Mea Culpa Commercials? Don't Hate Us Because We Stink Spots? I dunno, but maybe you do...

Okay, let's go to the phones...

_______________________ Video: The Pizza Turnaround


Boston, Mass.: "Going forward" -- a catch phrase for cover up.

Paul Farhi: True. It is usually preceded with some kind of mushy excuse for failure or description of something that went wrong. "Going forward" is supposed to convey, "Well, that's all behind us now. We're moving on..."


Sandusky, Ohio: What about eliminating, "All four hooves in the trough?"

Paul Farhi: I've never heard that one (sorry: I am not now, nor have I ever been, of the rural persuasion). And I kind of like it. It means..what?...gumming up the works? Being clumsy?


Dallas, Tex.: I'm more offended by meaningless words like "We give you 10 percent more", without completing the English sentence correctly. If I recall correctly, my English teacher told me "more" goes with "than." Advertisers typically use meaningless phases to mislead consumers without committing to anything. This is also a reflection of the mind sets of consumers.

Paul Farhi: Wouldn't it be understood to mean, "We give you 10 percent more than the 100 percent we (and everyone else) gives you"? That's kind of the way I read it. But, yeah, to be fully correct, you'd need the "than" part of the sentence.


Worst New Spot: Those Direct TV spots with James Lipton were both annoyingly stupid and ubiquitous during the Boise State game.

We need a formula to combine the "worstness" of a commercial with the frequency to develop an Irritation Quotient...except "IQ" shouldn't be used in discussing most TV advertising.

Oh, and happy new year to you, too.

Paul Farhi: Considering the high cool quotient (CQ) of DirecTv's movie and sports commercials (in which famous people digress from a movie scene or seemingly in the middle of a game to extoll DirecTv), those Lipton ads are way, way inferior. I also wonder: What guy is going to sign up for sat TV (and guys drive the purchase of sat TV) on James Lipton's say-so? But I guess the older ad campaign had run its course.


Referring repeatedly to "football" during football games. : Along the same lines, referring to "the National Football League" repeatedly during games. Yep, we're watching an NFL game. It's used a lot when the context is clearly known, that we are not talking about any other football league.

Paul Farhi: Right. Or, say, the National Waterpolo League.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Paul,

Not unique to this year, but definitely a part of the decade: "my bad." I hate that expression! Can we eliminate it?

Paul Farhi: I wonder if we--okay, I--end up hating ANY phrase that comes out of nowhere, gets popular and then gets overused? And at what point does the latest hipster phrase start striking one--okay, me--as a lame marker of hipness or coolness? "My bad" is certainly in that category, in any case.


Richmond, Va.: "mind you" -- ack ack ack

Paul Farhi: Hmmm. "Mind you" seems kind of quaint. The people who say "mind you" probably pronounce "often" as "off-ten," too, or begin exclamatory sentences with a word like "Why" (as in, "Why, I oughtta..."). I can't hate it...


Laurel, Md.: This weekend, I'm looking forward to trying the new and improved Domino's Pizza.

Maybe now the crust tastes like styrofoam.

Paul Farhi: Upgrade!


Porto Alegre, Brazil: It´s a great idea to banish this kind of doubletalk -- but may I suggest that Mr. Farhi also promotes a total ban in American books, films, videos and talk shows of all the expletives -- especially the "F" word? In a recent video on FOX satelite channel I counted 12 "F´s" in a 36-word sequence!. Happy New Year - it does not cost anything to speak English properly.

Paul Farhi: Well, the F word does have its uses. Not over-uses, mind you (oh, there I go...), but it's certainly handy in certain situations.


Sports commentary: As annoying as sports commentary can be, I think the only way to truly appreciate just how insipid it can be is to turn off the sound and read it in close captioning (as in some noisy bars). The first time I tried to follow a game this way, I just couldn't stop laughing.

Paul Farhi: Let's diagram that, shall we:

Announcer One: Description...cliche..cliche.

Color commentator: Complicated analysis...praise...cliche.

Announcer One: Mildly amusing comment.

Color commentator: {Chortle)...Praise for Announcer One's hilarity.

[Truck commercial]...


Eliminate this one?: Along the lines of "it is what it is" is the phrase, "it's all good." No, it is not all good, and trying to convince yourself and others is depressing.

Paul Farhi: Yeah, "It's all good" usually ends up being ironic. That is, "It ISN'T at all good" but I'm making the best of it.


Baltimore, Md.: A humorous phrase that now grates: Back in the 70s, Howard Cosell used to still refer to the "New York Football Giants," a term that I presume was a hangover from the days when there was a New York Giants baseball team. Chris Berman on ESPN occasionally still refers to the team that way. Given that the baseball team relocated to San Francisco a half century ago, I think this locution can be retired.

Paul Farhi: Kind of a little sports history for the kids there, no?

And Chris Berman will forever have a place in my heart for some of his silly player nicknames, particularly Colts running back Joseph "Live and Let" Addai....


Capitol Hill: Can we please also ban the term "connect the dots"? Especially when used in the context of the Christmas Day/Detroit would-be bomber. All these talking heads on TV talking about how the government failed to "connect the dots." How many freaking dots does it take?

Paul Farhi: Yes, but I do sorta like the image of one of those connect-the-dots pictures. I was really good at those in first grade!


RE: "It is what it is": The problem with banning IIWII is that we need another way to say, essentially: shut up, quit whining, you can't change it, etc.

My parents' generation had "Quicherbichin," but that just doesn't sound right.

Paul Farhi: There's a useful acronym floating around the internet that is not suitable for a family chat. But it includes the first letters of the phrase Shut the [word not suitable] Up.


Arlington, Va.: I have to say, the whole "fail" thing has completely passed me by.

Paul Farhi: Yes. Let's bury that one. It has failed from its own over-use.


People who pronounce "often": as "off-ten,"

By that do you mean pronounce it correctly?

Paul Farhi: Wait a cotton-pickin' here. "Often" is NOT pronounced "off-ten." Say it ain't so...


Speechless: Posting early, but three words:

Taco. Bell. Diet.

My mouth was agape for several minutes, although I did notice the disclaimer at the bottom that said it was not a weight loss program. Yes, you can buy something from Taco Bell that has less than 100 calories, but it will have absolutely no nutritional value...

Paul Farhi: I think that one has to go into some kind of Chutzpah Hall of Fame. Taco Bell offering low-cal meals (as opposed to low-cal food, which it doesn't) is pretty amazing. Next thing you know, Dunkin' Donuts is going to be suggesting that donuts are a part of an active lifestyle...


Washington, D.C.: "Business speak" terms like: "think outside the box," and "step up to the plate."

Paul Farhi: I wonder about "think." What box is it referring to? One of those Skinner pigeon mazes? The batter's box in baseball? Who? What?


Off-ten: ......are the same people who want to "axe" you a question?

Paul Farhi: "Axe" for "ask" has an interesting history. I thought it was an exclusively (or mostly) African-American thing. Not really. In a PBS doc a few years ago (I think it was "The Story of English"), the mispronunciation came out of England a few centuries ago and got transplanted to the South, where it took root among Southerners, black and white. It's regional and historical, I guess.


Alexandria, Va.: I want to scream when people misuse the word "parameters" by thinking it means "limits, which is almost never the case. Ninety-nine percent of the time they really mean "perimeters," but they say "parameters" because they have no idea of that word's true meaning.

Paul Farhi: And because "parameters" has been so misused for so long that it's true meaning has been obscured and displaced by a NEW (if technically wrong) meaning. Kinda weird and interesting when this happens. It's like "gauntlet" and "gantlet" (don't ask me which one you're supposed to throw down)....


The Airless Cubicle: This is a crusade that will go on as long as humans communicate with language. Most of us frame our thoughts as we speak. In this computerized era, most of us frame our thoughts as we write and then hit ENTER before we finish

Paul Farhi: True, but speech is a pretty flexible thing; it's changing all the time. As for computers: I always thought that we'd lose regional accents as a result of the accepted "anchor accent" on national TV, that in time everyone would kind sound the same. Hasn't happened. I suspect computers won't change that, either.


What box is it referring to?: Maybe it's the box you people get stuck in after graduating from a business school that churns out folks who no longer have any original thoughts.

Paul Farhi: Okay, a few words in defense of cliches: At least everyone knows what you're talking about when you use one.

That said (*), clear, concise, original thoughts are better than the pre-packaged kind.


McLean, Va.: My favorite workplace poster is the one that says, "If they want me to think outside the box, why do they make me work in a cubicle?"

Paul Farhi: Good 'un! (I STILL have a soft spot, by the way, for the classic workplace poster of the cute little kitty hanging by a paw over the slogan, "Hang in there. It's almost 5 o'clock").


Toss This One On The Pile, Too: "I could care less."

The always funny John Cleese had a brilliant send up on YouTube about this phrase. Could care less (YouTube)

Paul Farhi: I'm still not sure which phrase means the thing you think it means.


Dunkin' Donuts commercials: Your mention of Dunkin' Donuts reminded me how angry and insulted I got over the holidays (yeah, thanks) over their new commercials stating that most "hard-working Americans" (i.e., blue collar workin' guys) prefer their coffee over Starbucks, relegating us Starbuckers as prissy coffee-nistas, the liberal elect of the java house who haven't done an honest day's work in their life and Hate America. My New Year's resolution was NEVER enter a Dunkin' Donuts shop again. Even if I was falling down exhausted and needed a quick jolt of joe to sustain my vitals. NEVER.

Paul Farhi: Well, they're kind of right about Starbucks customers, aren't they?*

* Kidding!**

** Must ban "Kidding!" as an all-purpose punchline. Also, "Not!," as made famous (for its lameness) by "Borat."


"connect the dots": This is still used by attorneys for the respondents in civil lawsuits, to allege that the complainant has failed to make a case by the preponderance of evidence (i.e., over 50 percent).

Paul Farhi: Lawyers: Not great writers (although John Grisham isn't bad, and Scott Turow is actually quite good).


Alexandria, Va.: Since when is a "hat tip" trendy? Since I am an old codger, I remember reading "They'll Do It Every Time" in the Post comic section in the 1960s, which always featured a "tip of the Hatlo hat". (Jimmy Hatlo was the author)

It's a old-school, civilized way to acknowledge an accomplishment.

Paul Farhi: Yes, but it's become a new-school old-school way of acknowledging the passing of information from one person to another. But, okay, I acknowledge that it has a long history, which is worth honoring...


I could care less: Should be I COULDN'T care less. If you could care less then it means something to you. If you COULDN'T care less then it means nothing to you. I would have to say that I hear it wrong more than 75 percent of the time.

Paul Farhi: As Dieter said in another context, this phrase has become tiresome.


"Thinking outside the box": Isn't that just the successor to "coloring outside the lines"?

Paul Farhi: Hmm. Yes. But, well, see, you gotta like "coloring outside the lines" for the same reason you gotta like "connect the dots." Both are references to enjoyable kindergarten/primary school activities. Let us not devalue America's six year olds (except, of course, when they deserve it).


Anchor accents: Great observation. That did work for a time in the U.K. with the "plummy" BBC accent, but even they've gone for regional accents (especially Scottish).

How would you classify the typical anchor accent in the U.S.? (former ABC anchor Peter Jennings excluded -- he had the delightful Canadian "aboat" for "about" for years.)

Paul Farhi: It's kind of flat and midwestern, isn't it, but not identifiably "Chicago" or any one place. It seems be from nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. Kansas, maybe? I dunno.

As for the Beeb, I enjoy hearing the brief news updates that WAMU-FM airs later at night from the BBC. They have a revolving cast of "news readers" (the Brits don't get pretentious about calling them "anchors"), and it's a circus of inter-island accents--Scottish, Irish, upper-crust Brit and a bunch of accents that I can't quite peg (Liverpuddlian? East London?).


Anonymous: Ten Words You Need To Stop Misspelling

Paul Farhi: Thangu very much.


More?: "Right up my alley" and "You betcha"

Paul Farhi: Now, c'mon, those are just old, old-school. Not new, ain't-I-hip new school. Very evocative of the '30s and '40s. I envision old Cary Grant and Myrna Loy movies when I hear those.


workplace poster of the cute little kitty hanging by a paw : Like Marge Simpson when she started her pretzel business.

Paul Farhi: Praise be unto Marge!


Washington, D.C.: Would love to ban the phrase "let's move forward" when used by a manager who terminates half a department; and mistakenly gets rid of the one person who actually understood the legacy systems.

Paul Farhi: For a great take on corporate euphemizing, check out the most excellent "Up in the Air." Have you ever hated the perversion of the language as much as when used by these guys?


New York: I don't have a problem with "I could care less" in the sense of people using it to mean "I couldn't care less," because when I hear the former I really hear "I suppose it's remotely possible that in some fantasy world I could care less than I do now, but that is so unlikely that for practical purposes, I couldn't." (For this to work, "could" must be emphasized in the speech.) Both phrases are tired, however, and, as an editor, I encourage my writers to find something else to say.

Paul Farhi: Yeah, we get the meaning, either way. But that doesn't mean you should say/write it. Think up something better.


McLean, Va.: Interestingly, the "New and Improved" Dominos Pizza Stinks. It just isn't any good. It's relatively flavorless. I wasn't a huge fan of them before, so we were willing to give the "new" pizza a try...

I actually prefer the old recipe that I didn't like to this New and Improved one.

Paul Farhi: Well, there's your disasterous ad campaign in a nutshell. If you're going to promise that your product is really better than it was before, you can't make it 2 percent better, 5 percent better, 10 percent better. You gotta go big or get out of the way (*). Or else people will think you've lied to them--twice.

* Phrase slated for potential extinction.


Outside the box: I've never liked the phrase '... outside the box." I'm a cat owner, and when my cats do something outside the box, it's neither entertaining nor creative.

Paul Farhi: You have just ruined this phrase for me forever. I mean, far more than it was ever ruined for me.


22202: I nominate for retirement "look," as used when preceding statements from televised pontificators.

Paul Farhi: Yes! Very argumentative and arrogant. "Look" says, "I've got the straight goods, the last word on this subject. You've merely been pussyfooting." Obama, by the way, loves the "Well, look..." construction.

He also loves, "Let me be clear." He uses it in speeches and in interviews.


I've been hearing a lot recently:: "I'm wanting to ___ ." (take a vacation day, find a tapas restaurant, go to the movies) Whaaaaaaaaat happened to "I want to ___."?

Paul Farhi: How about, "I love me some [fill in blank]"? Seems to be moving up the charts...


Anchor accents: Robin MacNeil still has his Canadian accent, and on rare occasion still appears on the NPR News Hour. His veteran sidekick, alas, has such a thick accent he can't even pronounce his own last name properly (there's an "R" on the end, Jim!).

Paul Farhi: Well, except for the "aboot" thing, Canadians can talk English pretty good. Except for the ones that speak French, I mean.


Utilize: I know, it's not a hipster phrase, but that's my pet peeve. It's just a fancy word for "use." So just say "use" okay?

Paul Farhi: I will use it, yes.


"NOT" in Borat....: .....but the phrase was made famous in Wayne's World......there you go.....

Paul Farhi: Yes. I liked the way the way Wayne and Garth did it, but Borat kinda nailed the coffin shut on it.


Of-ten: "Often" is NOT pronounced "off-ten." Say it ain't so...

These are probably the same people who call ketchup "catsup".

Paul Farhi: Have you ever heard anyone SAY "catsup"? I haven't, but have seen it spelled that way for years. It's like the lyrics to "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off:" "You say tomato, and I say tomahto; you say potato, and I say potahto..." Have you ever heard anyone, including British people ever say "tom-ah-to" or "po-tah-to"? I haven't. I think even they realize how silly it sounds.


Penn Quarter: How about eliminating the use of the word "Nazi" from referring to anything other than the actual Nazis? These days, anyone who is seen as being a jerk about something is referred to as a (fill in the blank) Nazi. Kind of cheapens what the term actually represents.

Paul Farhi: 100 percent agreement, PQ. People who fling that term around seem, weirdly, utterly ignorant of history.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Dan Rather never totally lost his Texan accent; he never cowboyed it up, but the way he would pronounce words like 'skuw' instead of 'school', and things like that. When we're talking about anchor accents, blame/praise would probably fall to Tom Brokaw, his Jersey clone Brian Williams, and Katie Couric (sorry, but 'Pixie' isn't an accent, just a state of being).

Paul Farhi: Except for Brokaw's odd speech impediment (hilariously parodied by Dana Carvey way back when), his "accent" or lack thereof might have been the anchorman standard. Brokaw grew up in South Dakota. Maybe that's the dead center (not Kansas) for the generic American non-accent.


Washington, D.C.: Re the "taco bell diet": It proves Fred Allen's contention of long ago that, "Imitation is the sincerest form of television." If Jared had not legitimately lost a huge amount of weight on his Subway sandwich diet, which he subsequently pitched to the company, Taco Bell would not be playing "Me too." Also, not to forget, it's the new year, when people focus on losing 10 or 50 pounds. By summer, the Bell will be back to double stuffed cheeseburger burritos.

Paul Farhi: Right. This Taco Bell thing will disappear on or about Jan. 10th, when everyone has abandoned their new year's resolution to lose weight.


Anchors: "It's kind of flat and midwestern, isn't it, but not identifiably 'Chicago' or any one place. It seems be from nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. Kansas, maybe? I dunno."

Yep. I always thought it came from central Ohio, where I grew up (not to be confused with the more nasal Cleveland-to-Toledo corridor, or the Kentucky-influenced Cincinnati area, or the Appalachian eastern part...). But eventually I realized that we just sounded the same as Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, etc.

Paul Farhi: Some parts of the midwest have rich and clearly identifiable accents. I was stunned the first time I heard everyone in Wisconsin speak. Minnesota has a distinctive one, too, of course. But is there an Iowa accent? I've been there a few times and don't remember one...


Leesburg, Va.: I am put off both by people who feel the need to quailfy their opinions with the phrase "In My Opinion..." and people who get offended when you don't qualify yours as well. I learned in the 8th grade that opinions didn't need to be qualified (that your statement is your opinion is implied), and we actually used to be marked down on papers for using the Phrase "In my opinion..."

That said, I could care less what people think moving forward, I love me some "Fail."

Paul Farhi: How about, "In my humble opinion," which of course got foreshortened to IMHO in instant messages back when (not "back in the day"). IMHO calls a little too much attention to itself, which means it isn't all that humble. And, you're right: Underlining that your opinion is an opinion does seem unnecessary.


Fairfax, Va.: I hate that expression you used, "I love me some _ _ _." Some people say it with people in mind also. It's disgusting.

Paul Farhi: What IS it about that phrase? Is it excessively sexual or suggestive?


Sec 114, Nats Park: But you never hear them called the "St. Louis Baseball Cardinals", do you?

Paul Farhi: That WOULD be the equivalent, wouldn't it? (Yes, see, children, St. Louis used to have an NFL team called the Cardinals, just like the baseball team). But then the team moved to Arizona and where it became, um, the Rockies? and the L.A. Rams moved to St. Louis, where they became...well, kinda bad).


mynd yu...: Sorry, don't think I've ever heard "mind you" used in conversation, just in the opening bit of Holy Grail. "Mynd yu, m00se bites kan be pretti nasti!" Probably not a great growing trend.

Paul Farhi: Us old folks use it more than you whippersnappers, I think. Or maybe I should say we used it more off-ten than you do.


Iowa accent: A nursery school friend's mother was from Iowa. My 4-year-old observation was that she spoke very quickly, which my own mother said was her Iowa accent. This is all compared to the western-D.C.-area speech I was used to, which is of course somewhat different from the eastern-D.C.-area accent that pronounces final "l"s as "w" and "water" as "wudder."

Paul Farhi: I'm not sure I actually like the Maryland accent, but I do like living in a place that has a distinctive accent. To me, the Maryland accent is cued up by a simple word: "On." If you say "awn," you might be from a long line of Marylanders.


Other overused phrases: "Back story": Where did that come from? "Back in the day": What day?

Paul Farhi: Yeah, no one has a story anymore. Just a backstory. But I like "back in the day." So vague, so generically nostalgic. It can be any time. Suggests a golden age. Kinda dreamy.


McLean, Va.: The GA( General American) accent-less speech which was the standard for newscasters for many years was defined as that found in Tulsa, Okla., and taught to speech and speech/language pathology majors in college. Just don't drift far from the city limits, or you will get into some very strange sounds!

Paul Farhi: I recall reading something about how Tulsa (or possibly Omaha or possibly some other mid-sized midwestern city) had become the national telemarketing capital for just this reason. The accent passed everywhere, and wasn't too regionally distinct. Of course, this was before call centers moved to Bangalore and the operators started sounding like Indian Valley Girls.


Frigid South Florida: I hate answering machine messages that day "I'll get back at my earliest convenience." That means the message will be returned when the person has nothing better to do. The correct phrase, from a standpoint of courtesy, would be "I'll get back to you at my earliest opportunity."

Paul Farhi: Ah, so true. Cliches that shouldn't be.


What IS it about that phrase? Is it excessively sexual or suggestive?: Yes. I don't know why but I always picture Billy Bob Thornton saying it. "I love me some crazy wild women." While rubbing his hands together and drooling.

Paul Farhi: Ah. The combination of suggestiveness and mangled English--not good!


Have you ever heard anyone, including British people ever say "tom-ah-to" or "po-tah-to"? I haven't. I think even they realize how silly it sounds. : Yes, I used to work with a woman who said "tomahto." She was a sweet old lady, though, so I didn't make fun of her.

Paul Farhi: Okay. There's one. I guess it's the old British-American two-countries-separated-by-a-common-language thing.


Alexandria, Va.: I believe most people consider Henry Fonda's Nebraskan speech from all his movies to be the American "Standard."

Paul Farhi: Not Jimmy Stewart's Pennsylvanian accent (if any)? For my money, I'll take Jimmy over Henry (accent AND movies)...


More Aboot America, Jr.: We get a lot of Canuckistanis down here in Florida this time of year, and they're losing their accents. The other day we were talking with a nice couple on the beach and they sounded like they could have been from Kansas, dontchaknow.

Paul Farhi: Assimilation of Canadians is part of my master plan to annex Canada and steal all of its oil (it has a LOT). Heck, it's practically a suburb now. Or as the t-shirt says, "Canada: America's Hat."


Domino's: My husband was surprised that Domino's pizza eaters have to pay $5.99 for the privilege of trying the new pizza. Sure, you can theoretically get your money back if you don't like it, but who's going to do that? Shouldn't they be giving this pizza away if they want people to try it?

Paul Farhi: Huh? Domino's is a business and businesses sell things. The ads are an inducement to buy. Giving away things for nothing is a bad business model (just ask the newspaper industry).


Nursery school linguist, again: Ahem, as a native of Montgomery County, I demand it be noted that the (yes, rather trashy) "Maryland" accent is a characteristic of those raised on the eastern side of the Montgomery border -- Prince George's and east. I remember a conversation in high school (1975ish) where we all noted that we were SO glad we weren't from PG Co., with their awful accent and big hair. (Note that this comment referred to class-consciousness; the racial divide the between the counties had not yet developed.)

Paul Farhi: Oh, go awn. We have friends and neighbors who grew up in MoCo and points northeast (Balmore) who sound quite a bit like Marylanders. And the northern part of the county--Damascus, Clarksburg, parts of Gaithersburg, heading awn up to Frederick--has plenty of folk who sound the same way.


But I like "back in the day." : Ugh, I hate "back in the day." A co-worker of mine used it on a daily basis to emphasize how long she'd been at the company. But in a way that made you know she felt superior to you, since you started after her and wouldn't know all the cool stuff that she did.

Paul Farhi: I guess context is important. When I think of that phrase, I think of someone waxing nostalgic ("Why, back in the day, the Redskins were really GOOD" etc.)


Old Blue in Exile: The All-American non-accent comes from native Californians!

Paul Farhi: Depends which natives you mean. The indians? The Spanish settlers? Not the Okies, surely. And not the Valley Girls (who, by the way, spread their accent to teenage girl everywhere).


Domino's ad: It would be like the Post saying "all our reporting stunk before, but now we're really going to do some GOOD reporting. With no overused phrases!"

Paul Farhi: I can't endorse your example, but yeah, that's sort of it.


Misuse of Begging the Question: When you "beg the question," you give an irrelevant answer. You essentially refuse to answer the question.

Begging the question does NOT mean the next logical question derived from that question.

What kind of idiots are out there these days? Ones that never went to school, or the ones teaching them?

Paul Farhi: Well, let's draw some distinctions here. It's like "parameters" and "perimeters"--one is technically correct, the other is not. But language is flexible. Stuff that wasn't kosher before (like the word "kosher") falls into common use and becomes accepted. So, you're technically right. "Begging" and "raising" aren't the same thing. But that one is so far gone, I'm not sure it's worth trying to save it anymore. Let it ride...


Maryland accent: I feel so left out.

- Northern Virginian

Paul Farhi: You people--and I mean "you people" in the nicest possible way--used to have a very distinctive accent, didn't you? More southern, no? Did it get watered down by all the outlanders moving in, or am I imagining there was ever such a thing as a Northern Virginian accent in the first place?


Columbia, S.C.: My aunt who would be a hundred this year and lived her whole life in Buffalo, N.Y., said "to-maa-to" with an "a" as in "cat." Never heard anyone else pronounce it that way, but I grew up in Aiken, S.C.

A lot of midwesterners think they have a neutral accent, but say "aigs" and "exyurcise" and "melk."

Paul Farhi: Plus, some of them call soft drinks "pop." Dead giveaway there.


Montgomery County accent: Um, Baltimore doesn't count -- it's EAST of Montgomery. It's an intensified version of the Maryland accent. In the '70s the further northwest you went, the more the accent slipped toward the (vastly preferable, in our opinion) Appalachian.

Paul Farhi: Hmmm. Maybe what I'm hearing in MoCo is just the accent of transplanted northern Marylanders. But I could have sworn there were some native MoCo'ians who talked that way, too.


Herndon, Va.: Regarding phrases to be banished, how about "With all due respect." To me, that simply means "You are an idiot and I will now demonstrate that to you and all who are listening." Why not just "I disagree"?

Paul Farhi: And strictly speaking, "with all due respect" means, with all the respect you are due, which in your case, may not be all that much. And, yes, it's usually followed by something withering. It's the two-way equivalent of "That said." Phony civility.


Taco Bell: Hey, didn't KFC have an ad campaign, featuring George Kostanza no less, that pitched KFC as health food? I think it ran about the same time as the Atkins craze. They had to pull it shortly after.

As far as business terms go: "Bio-break," "Put this in the parking lot" and "I'll be out of pocket during that time."

Paul Farhi: "Out of pocket"! Which suggests you were "in the pocket." You have to hope that you can think outside the box when you're in the pocket.

This all reminds me of George Carlin's ingenious "Modern Man" bit. Check it on the YouTube.


Bethesda, Md.: Completely agree on the "in space," "football," and "National Football League" overuse. In space in particular seems to have been invented just this year. Ron Jaworski on the Monday Night broadcasts is the absolute worst, he'll say all three in the same sentence.

You could say he's the worst. broadcaster. ever.

but I think that would be cliched.

Paul Farhi: Oh, yes! One. Word. Sentences.

Hate. 'Em.


Bawlmer: When I first moved to the Maryland suburbs of D.C. from far away, I recall local announcers mentioning lots of suburbs I'd never heard of, including one "Bawlmer." After a couple months, one day I heard Mal Campbell on WRC referring to the "Bawlmer Colts" and it all finally made sense to me!

Paul Farhi: Loveable reference to that city, no? D.C. has no equivalent. "Wash'ton"? "Deece"? I don't think so...


Seattle, Wash.: Been sitting in too many meetings -- tired of "things in the bucket" and "finding one's passion".

Paul Farhi: "Finding one's passion" sounds like what they tell you right before they lay you off. Much like "Up in the Air."


Annoying Word: I hate "invite" as a noun. What is wrong with "invitation". "Invite" sounds like something Jed Clampett would say.

Paul Farhi: Jed Clampett would probably say, "I love me some [fill in the blank]," but he would make it sound wholesome, not dirty.


Paul Farhi: Folks, I could go on, and you certainly did since there are many, many more proposed words and phrases to banish here than I could get to today. But we'll try again, because there's always next week, and because that's how we roll (*). Please come back next week when we'll have more to explore, deplore and in store. Until then, have a great week and a great year. As always, regards to all...Paul.

(*) Kill this one, too.


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