College students tend to latch onto popular words and milk them absolutely dry until they become things we laugh at when our parents say them.
Take, for example, the following:
- Literally. If I hear this word one more time, I will literally throw my computer at the wall. But not really. See? This word doesn’t make sense unless you literally mean it. When you use this word (or any word for that matter) over and over and over, it loses its meaning and emphasis.
- I Can’t Even. You can’t even…what?! This phrase is obviously unfinished, but the not-so-well-spoken person who originated it was so cool that we all wanted to sound like them. What if we decided to leave off the last words of other sentences for some kind of weird comedic emphasis? Picture telling a server at a restaurant, “Hi, I’d like a.” Or tell your doctor, “I’m having pain in my.”
- Ratchet. I know that Urban Dictionary has its own explanation for this one (Warning: NSFW), but there is no way I can believe this word didn’t come out of someone attempting to call something “wretched.” So whether or not that is where the word came from, it certainly appears so, and using it makes you sound extremely uneducated.
While this may be funny for students, Americans do the exact same thing in politics. There are quite a few words and phrases that our political leaders have so lovingly brought into fashion that you and I should think about replacing. In many of these cases, I can almost hear the wise Inigo Montoya saying to us, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Thus, for the more politically-minded, here are some words we should consider changing:
Bipartisanship. I don’t know about you, but I hear this word much more often than I actually see both parties working together to achieve something. In all the news articles I’ve seen that call for bipartisanship, I have not seen any actual situations where this happens. The only specific situation I read about was a possible race between John Huntsman’s Mustang and Joe Biden’s Corvette, as reported in a political gossip column.
When bipartisanship actually happens, it is generally not planned at all. For example, the latest scandal involving the Secret Service created a similar reaction from both political parties (i.e. bipartisanship). They both called for Julia Pierson’s resignation. Was this something the two parties got together and planned? Probably not.
Bipartisanship simply happens when parties happen to have the same response to the same situation. But politicians use this word whenever they want to look good without actually doing anything to change. If politicians are going to keep saying it, then I think we need to see some genuine coming-together of political parties to get something done (like confronting the ISIS terrorist threat, maybe).
Bigot. A bigot is defined as “A person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.” In politics, this word is frequently used as a label that describes conservatives who fall on the wrong side of a political issue.
However, I’ve since started wondering if maybe we are all bigoted: after all, we all have opinions we think are right. In my conversations with liberals, for example, rarely do they say anything like “Good point,” “I can see where you’re coming from,” or “You’re welcome to think that, though I disagree.” Instead, they tell me how I must agree with them: I must accept of gay marriage, support Obamacare, or take up whatever cause they are promoting. I must tolerate everything they do, but they don’t have to tolerate my opposite opinion. An ironic statement from an Australian newspaper sums it up very nicely in an opinion piece from a college campus: “We are not a community that tolerates bigotry in any form.”
Tolerance. As mentioned just a moment ago, tolerance only goes so far as the “tolerant” person is willing to let it go. As a result, half of us will talk about tolerance, but not actually practice it when another person’s opinions or beliefs fall too far outside the range of things we can accept. The other half of us won’t say it or do it, and just attack people who disagree with us. So let’s all either stop talking about it, or–however unlikely this may be–actually start doing it.
Racist/Racism. This word is the go-to word for any particular situation involving people of different skin colors. Instead of focusing on what the problem actually may be, we just toss this word around until it lands on someone and sticks. Mitch Hall unpacks this issue in his article “The False Racism of Ferguson.” In the case of both Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, the media went straight to racism as the explanation, ignoring evidence suggesting that these two men were actually violently attacking police officers.
And it’s not just in court cases. When I told people I was not planning to vote for President Obama, people would say, “Well…you’re just…racist!” In reality, that was not my motive at all; I just wanted to pick the better candidate. We’ve got to stop hurling this word at people. Everyone says they want racism to end, but what if we’re all just keeping it alive by accusing each other of it?
Intellectual. This word can be voiced as either the worst insult known to man or as a label to make a person sound superior. But why on earth is this word so loaded and versatile?
Intellectual may be defined in four main ways: (1) “a person of superior intellect,” (2) “a person who places a high value on or pursues things of interest to the intellect or the more complex forms and fields of knowledge, as aesthetic or philosophical matters, especially on an abstract and general level,” (3) “an extremely rational person; a person who relies on intellect rather than on emotions or feelings,” or (4) “a person professionally engaged in mental labor, as a writer or teacher.”
These very different definitions may be one of the reasons this word is so confusing: intellectual people are supposed to think on an “abstract” level, but are also supposed to be “extremely rational.” These two pieces seem especially contradictory. It only makes sense that this word is used by political friend and foe alike, in one moment meaning a person is too intellectual to do any good in a real situation, and in the next that they are the only one intellectually qualified to handle the same situation. We end up talking past each other: for example, if a liberal calls a conservative intellectual as a compliment, the conservative may become offended. Conversely, if a conservative uses it as an insult, the liberal thanks them. Everybody loses! Let’s just pick a new compliment/insult that is more clearly understood to be what it is and doesn’t have a contradictory meaning.
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I’m sure these are not the only words that we use and abuse too much. My worst repeat words and phrases, for example, are “we as Americans,” and “I mean, seriously.” But imagine what would happen if we decided to employ some of the other words the beautiful English language has to offer! Or, to be even more audacious, what if we actually said what we meant? People, for once, would understand each other instead of yelling past each other, and our discourse would rise to a much higher level.
I mean, seriously.