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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

3 Please Stop Sayings

One of the most glorious things about modern pop culture is the speed with which it generates new ideas and abandons old ones. Pop doesn’t last long because it’s not supposed to, and as a result, it is a genre of content populated by things that burn quickly and bright, suffusing our everyday life - welcome or not - and then running off as briskly as they arrive. This pleasing cycle of brain candy is just the sort of thing that keeps the brains of the ADD generations satiated and fuels the information appetite of a society spoiled by the endless flow of the information superhighway. There are, from time to time, stubborn bits of cultural flotsam that cling to the shore despite the raging river - things that have long overstayed their welcome, for which discernible value can be derived and whose very survival defies any notion of cultural gentility that one might even begin to have. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the cliches, quips and sayings which make up our linguistic lexicon. Sayings bolt in and out of popular use and often signpost our cultural eras (e.g. “groovy”, “bitchin’”, “the bomb”, etc.) but those that don’t bolt out remind us of all the bad parts of what we were five minutes ago and are about as welcome as a turd in the swimming pool. So in the interests of getting back to the future, here are 3 sayings that people need to stop... well, you know:

1. What it Isn’t. There has always been something to say when there’s nothing to say. But never has that something been as inane and mind-numbing as “it is what it is.” Even worse than the valueless assertion of this tautology is the smug look on its usual offeror’s face as though they offered some timeless bit of wisdom which will unlock the mystery of your current consternation. This is less of a conclusion than the finale of the Sopranos. Oh, is it what it is? Wow, thanks Steven Hawking - now that you’ve cleared that up, I won’t have to worry about singularities, quarks and white matter, because it’s all clear to me now. I’m also now able to finally connect the dots and understand that it isn’t what it isn’t, it was what it was, and it will be what it will be. Honestly, I’d rather you just shrug your shoulders and do your best Chewbacca impression than offer up this kind of intellectual masturbation. I don’t know how this phrase came into common use, and I don’t know who started it - but if I ever find out, I’ll take them out into the street and slap them with a garden rake. Repeatedly. If this phrase ever pops into your head, and you’re thinking about uttering it, do us all a favor and go with what you’re really supposed to say when you have no idea: “I don’t know.”

2. A Hard Day’s Trite. I recognize that there’s no spectacularly cool way to preface a conclusion in a conversation. Unless you’re giving a speech (i.e. at a lectern) you can’t say “in conclusion” without sounding like a dick, and unless you’re a lawyer, if you even write “in light of the foregoing” people will immediately want to kick you in the face. But if I hear one more person tell me what’s going to happen “at the end of the day”, I just might end theirs early. What’s worse, I hear this particular mindless preface offered up when someone is about to disregard everything someone else has just said, in lieu of their own vastly oversimplified conclusion. E.g. (following a detailed statistical explanation of a sports matchup) - “Well sure, but at the end of the day, the team that scores more points is going to win.” I’ve gotten less infuriating responses when trying to make a point to a group of tweens. I’d rather be told to shut up in the middle of what I’m saying than have someone wipe away the whole of it by offering up this drivel. The only thing that’s certain to happen “at the end of the day” is the peace I’ll get from not having to hear anyone utter this crap. If you’re thinking of punctuating a conversation with a personal deduction that you’ve derived from things you’ve learned from television, forwarded e-mails or your bong-fueled amateur philosophy discussions - do us all a favor and keep it to yourself, at least until the end of the day.

3. Apocalypse How. I know it’s difficult to come up with something to say when someone is having a bad day, has had an untimely tragedy, or is just in the midst of an unlucky stretch, but offering up an unlikely worse-case scenarios with the preface of “it could be worse” is about as palliative as just smacking them and telling them to “snap out of it.” I’m not quite sure how this particularly ineffective method of giving someone perspective came to be widely used - but using extra negativity to combat negative feelings seems like the psychological equivalent of fighting fire with a flamethrower, yelling at someone with anger management issues, or taking an alcoholic to a bar to talk things over. Even more baffling are the improbable examples offered up by these amateur psychoanalysts when trying to offer a comforting outlook. I’ve actually heard someone try to comfort a friend over the sickness of a loved one, by opining that “could be worse, they could have died”; someone try to make a friend feel better about a pay-cut/demotion by offering “could be worse, you could be unemployed”; and someone try to help a friend cope with an abusive living situation by by offering “could be worse, you could be homeless.” Really, wow, thanks Nostradamus, I was trying to think of how things could be better, and why they’re not - but I appreciate you directing me right back to the worst possible thing. If this is your idea of help, you’re better off keeping quiet and sending a card instead.

* * *

With the amount of dialogue required of most of us in a day, it’s no surprise that we find ourselves leaning on the intellectual ease that cliches offer us. After all, coming up with something to say to people whom we don’t take that much interest in can sometimes seem like a mammoth imposition. Unfortunately, this malaise often sneaks its way into our other interactions - you know, the ones we really do care about? Cliches and sayings come into existence for a reason, because they express something ubiquitous - but in their commonality they also become affected, impersonal and sterile. Our heads are filled with literally thousands of them - because they are all around us, and we can’t help that they pop up. But before you use one, especially one of the above, remember, at the end of the day, it is what it is, and it could be worse, you could not be able to talk at all. Come to think of it, that might not be so bad after all.


Jen and Tonic said...

I really hate it when people say "it is what it is" because they NEVER mean that. It is just their way of pretending that something doesn't bother them. I would way rather someone say, "It bugs me that my ex is getting married" rather than, "He can get married. It is what it is."

Oh, and I am going to start saying "in conclusion" when I am ready to end a discussion. I'll let you know what kind of reactions I get. ;)

As always, brilliant!!

Anonymous said...

"At the end of the day" makes me see red! At the end of WHAT day? I also hate "I have to/must say." No, actually, you don't...but you just did anyway.

Awesome piece. Love it!

Denise said...

An obvious and annoying variant of #3 is "It's not the end of the world." Of course the planet has not ceased to exist! I don't think anyone is really confused about that!

And to agree with SL above, I have a friend who prefaces a majority of her statements with, "I had to laugh because...," even when the remainder of the sentence is not the slightest bit amusing. Utterly meaningless.

Anonymous said...

At the end of the day it is what it is and I'll tell you, it could be a whole lot worse.


Hawkman said...

Stephen Hawking says...

...IT DOESN'T MATTER what Stephen Hawking says!

Anonymous said...

Along with number 3, I'd like to submit "Everything happens for a reason."

Anonymous said...

You people are all retarded. They're called idiomatic expressions. When one has his "head in the clouds," is his head really in the clouds? No, but you say it anyway. Get a life. But you already have a life, because you are living, right? Well fuck you.

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