The perpetuity of a modern catch phrase
Remember when people used to say “Don’t go there?”
Since some of our less cultured grandparents are just now adopting the phrase we can safely date the phenomenon at roughly 15-20 years old.
It was a terrible time for the country. Not politically or economically or militarily; those areas were all doing pretty well, at least from what I remember.
No, it was just terrible having to listen to people say “don’t go there” over and over like they invented it.
Then something strange happened.
See, the lifespan of a stupid catch phrase follows a dependable checklist.
Step 1: Phrase is started by someone.
Step 2: Phrase is used by early adopters/hipster kids.
Step 3: Phrase is used on national media (TV, radio, newspapers), millions use it the next day at work; hipster kids stop using phrase.
Step 4: Phrase becomes trite, is abandoned by the common culture; phrase reappropriated by hipster kids, used ironically.
Step 5: The tragically unhip (grandparents, government pamphlets) use the phrase, thereby killing it forever.
That has been the standard series of events with every popular phrase in the United States dating back to the first catch phrase “she’s got Moxie!”
But as we progressed further into the Information Age we Americans started sharing information faster and faster. Well, maybe calling it “information” is a bit generous; learning about the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a piece of information, scrolling through your newsfeed trying to avoid pictures of your friend’s dogs dressed up like people is “white noise” at best.
With this rapid “information” sharing we have destroyed the delicate lifecycle of a popular phrase; we move so quickly between Step 1 and Step 4 we can forget whether we are being hip, ironic, ironically hip, intentionally lame or just behind the times.
It other words: Our popular language is now in a state of perpetual meta-irony, from which no lame catch phrase can escape.
Well I say enough is enough! Can one Quixotic, unconventionally good-looking man tilt at enough windmills to forever rid American English of such nonsense?
No, of course not. But what I CAN do is provide a most wanted list, a rogue’s gallery of moronic catch phrases that should be the first to vanish from our lexicon. Remember, if you see something, say something … just don’t say any of these idiotic things.
YOLO, You Only Live Once: Oh, you just know that one had to be first on the list. This rallying cry of the shortsighted is often heard in the presence of alcohol, manipulative friends and EMTs. Normally this phrase is used when you want to give yourself permission for self destructive behavior. If you need to give yourself permission to be self destructive you have no business being self destructive.
Literally: Not too long ago this word meant “literal, or exact.” Recently this once great word has been co-opted by the American Idiocracy to mean the exact opposite. That’s a total inversion of the original definition, how did we let that happen?
At the end of the day: This one is real popular amongst people that don’t want facts to get in the way of a good opinion. Users of this phrase belive that somehow a folksy saying about “when all the work is done” can cover up that they are, in fact, wrong. Not a difference of opinion, just wrong. Next time you hear it tell them “And at the beginning of the day, I’m still right!” Just be sure you have the facts to back you up, or it’s going to get embarrassing … fast.
Man Cave: I just might hate this one the most. Man cave? Whatever happened to “den?” Or “study?” Or “lounge?” A “den” is where a man, or woman, can go to enjoy some of the finer examples of adulthood; namely a quality drink, a game of cards with friends, or some high minded literature. A “Man Cave,” on the other hand, is where a perpetual child goes to celebrate never growing up; unfortunately most people who have “man caves” also have children, so maybe it’s time to just act like an adult.
Git’er Done: I’ve worked a lot of jobs in my 32 years on this Earth. Retail, manufacturing, food service, office jobs, pretty much the gamut of work available to your average Iowan. At every blue collar job I’ve ever held I shared my time with hard working, nose to the grindstone people that didn’t need an outdated character yelling a catch phrase at them for inspiration to keep working. Pride in their work and a fair paycheck was really all it took to keep them working; so if Jeff Foxworthy could come and pick up Larry the Cable Guy and take him back to the ranch where he keeps all the other failed Blue Collar Comedy guys I would really appreciate it.
Shelter in Place: Finally, the latest and most frightening of all the catch phrases. Shelter in place is what they say when armed guards close off a school, a street, or the city of Boston because a dangerous and armed person or persons is about. It is a time when people are scared and unable to leave their current position and need to be reassured. Shelter in place is the opposite of reassuring; it’s a government-speak way of saying that danger is happening, but they don’t want you to be too worried about it.
Want me to get worried about something? First thing you do: Tell me not to get worried about it. It’s time for “shelter in place” to take it’s title as the zenith of politically correct phrases and be replaced by what we’re all talking about anyway: lockdown.
So there it is. Were phrases left off? Of course. Will the listed phrases disappear entirely following the publication of this column? No, but I can hope that some of them will disappear; if for no other reason than to make room for groundbreaking bits of stupidity like “cray cray.”
Do other languages have this problem? How hard is it to learn Spanish?