Overused, Abused and, Literally, Ineffective

We have a tendency to share things: food, drink, conversation, beds and words. Let’s focus on the last one. I’ve always been a proponent of having a good vocabulary. Why? Because it’s really good to use words in specific and precise ways. Many people, however, use words to impress others or sound hip, cool or in-the-know.

No place is better than Washington, D.C., to hear words take off like a dragster. Home to our national leadership and defense programs, there’s no question that a lot of trendy terms ooze forth from the Beltway. There’s a great tendency to use military terms, engineering phraseologies and technical terms and transfer these to common, but hip, discussions.

Take the presidential press secretary’s comment a few days ago. He said that a White House nomination that was running amok may have to be “recalibrated.” I love that. It’s much better than reconsidered or rethought. It sounds so much more, well, official.

Another term I like is “lead from behind.” A favorite of pundits on the Fox News Channel, this phrase takes a moment to sink in. Are you saying the president is dissing his leadership role and taking a back seat in international and domestic affairs? Sounds like it.

I remember some terms that have come and gone: going ballistic, going postal. Those were good; they combined military or government agency terms with threats of violence. But at least the latter one arose from events now distant.

Other D.C. words I like: equilibrium, osmosis, cherry picking, stealth, upside, downside, collateral damage, and friend of mine. Of course, you have to like “literally” in almost all cases.

Let’s not forget the new forces in trendy word creation, the Internet and technology. “Selfie” is one that seems like it could have sticking power. “Bandwidth” cannot be beaten as a good old standby: “Do you have the bandwidth to finish this project on time?” “Hashtag” has become commonplace, and there are more coming “online” every day.

My old adage in writing used to be: When in doubt, leave it out. Looks like that maxim is as dated as my dictionary. Literally.

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