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Column: Reach out ... and bug someone

  • Miami Herald illustration -- Ericka Hamburg

For the Valley News
Published: 3/20/2021 10:30:17 PM
Modified: 3/20/2021 10:30:14 PM

Among other things, the free time allotted by the COVID-19 pandemic has given me the opportunity to consume a lot of information. It has also allowed me to think about the things that really annoy me. I’m an easygoing fellow so, thankfully, the list of irritants is short.

At the top of that list is language abuse, both spoken and written. Yes, I acknowledge that I make mistakes just like everyone else. I also understand that the English language is constantly evolving, but it is sometimes difficult for me to recognize — and more difficult to accept — such natural evolution.

Perhaps some of these abused words and phrases make you cringe, as well. So, which ones irk me and why?

No phrase elicits more internal angst these days than “reach out.” While its intent is surely genuine, it comes across as trendy and insincere, and its origin as an AT&T advertising slogan from the 1970s doesn’t help. Why not say “call” or “write” or even “email” instead?

Giving “reach out” a run for its money is “at the end of the day.” Every time I hear that I want to ask, “Do you mean just before midnight?”

What about grating neo-verbs like “impact” and “leverage”? These used to be nouns before vain businesspeople started tossing them out in an attempt to sound savvy. If you need a verb meaning “to influence,” choose “affect.” It’s best to save “impact” for meteors and “impacted” for problematic wisdom teeth. Let’s not get started about “impactful” when the tried-and-true “important” works just fine. If you’re tempted to use “leverage,” use “use” instead, or perhaps “employ.”

And how the heck did “narrative” become so ubiquitous in recent years? Call what you’re talking about a story or a message. Much easier on the ear and far less cringe-inducing.

Countless television weatherpersons have rained on my parade when they talk about “warm (or hot, or cold, or cool) temperature.” Air can be hot, warm, cool, cold or freezing; “conditions” or “weather” could be described similarly. Temperature cannot. Temperature is a measurement. As such, temperature can be high or low, rising or falling, steady or variable, but it simply can’t be hot, warm, cool, cold or freezing. If anyone should know this, it’s meteorologists.

Speaking of TV, on an evening news program recently, the anchorman used the conjunction “that” when referring to human beings: “The hundreds of people that received their COVID vaccination yesterday waited in the cold for hours.” Instead, he should have described the hundreds of people “who” received their shot, or a vaccination line “that” was notably long. Thank goodness he did not say that they waited in the cold temperature.

The use of familiar Latin plural words (e.g., data, alumni, media) as singular forms bothers me, though I admit I am fighting a losing battle here. These words are indeed plurals, although the revered AP Stylebook now allows a relaxation of singular/plural usage. Conventional uses of Latin singulars and plurals are, however, still seen in scientific and academic contexts. I do remain a bit of a purist and will not budge on “data” or “media,” but I’ll grant that “auditoria” and “stadia” do sound a little weird.

What else? “Price point” (when “price” will do just fine). “It is what it is,” (what is?). “Open-concept room” (once construction begins, it’s not a concept anymore). “Many people are saying,” (really? who?). “At this point in time, (is “in time” really necessary?).

More spoken sentences these days seem to be starting with “Again …” (wait, did you already tell me that?), and “Yeah, no ...” or “No ... yeah ...” (hmmm … explain those to me).

Finally, sports clichés — from “we gave 110%” to “time to step it up” to “take one game at a time” — have been so beaten to death that criticism is simply a waste of ink — or pixel.

Like it or not, the COVID-19 crisis has given us all more time to think about the things that annoy us. The evolution of the English language is, admittedly, a small stone in one’s shoe. These new uses are not what we expect to hear or read when we encounter them and, in some cases, they’re ugly or scary. Alas, they’re part of today’s grammar landscape and, in most cases, for better or worse, are probably here to stay.

If you would like to discuss this, send me an email, text or IM me, talk to me, write me a letter, skywrite, send a telegram or call. Please, however, do not reach out.

Dan DeMars (, of Norwich, is a freelance writer and a management consultant to higher education and the biotechnology industry.

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