2020: A pandemic of clichés

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New Year’s Eve in Time Square will occur as a virtual affair. Naturally there’s an app. Users can create avatars, fly through virtual games, hear recorded performances by pop singers sitting or dancing in virtual sets, collect virtual currency by bopping against virtual confetti, buy virtual merch — the hip word for merchandise — from a virtual store. They can add virtual backdrops depicting the dropping ball, which is real enough, to their selfies. Or if they prefer, put virtual silver crowns on their digital heads.

Whoopee. Doesn’t it sound dreadful? Virtual this, virtual that. Virtual, virtual, virtual. I’m virtually throwing up thinking about it.

The scourge of the virus has been real enough this year, in what many are calling an international annus horribilis. Queen Elizabeth II, who once used that word to describe 1992 because of events in the royal family, called the pandemic “destruction that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.” That was back in April. And since then, didn’t one of the grandsons de-royal himself?

Without minimizing what my late mother would have called a horribilitudinosity, I’m hoping 2021 brings, in addition to worldwide vaccination, an inoculation from some of the clichés that have settled into the vulgate. A year or so has passed since my last list, so here goes.

Let’s start with virtual. Can’t people just say “online?” Online meetings are real — we’re talking with and hearing one another, checking one another’s wardrobe. We’re all sitting on our tucheses at the same time, staring into our laptops while the dog wanders through the background. Virtual is an old computer term that, like “real time” is rarely used in its precise meaning. Just stop.

Then there’s “follow the science” and its variants. I’ll stay right here, thank you. Scientists spend most of their time trying to blow up the work of other scientists. If they didn’t, doctors would still bleed people like they did George Washington. We wouldn’t have discovered reverse transcriptase, much less the atom. “Follow the science” has been mainly adopted by politicians who follow it as long as it supports their suppositions.

How about if we refrain from Silicon Valley? First of all, it’s not even silicon valley anymore. Nearly all of the semiconductor circuit fabrication which gave the area its name has fled. If anything, it’s become Software Valley. Either way, as a shorthand for all that is innovative and good, the term’s about as obsolete as a triode. What’s so good about Twitter anyway?

And thanks to our Amelia Brust, who points out that thought leader, in her words, “does really look stupid out of context.” It does. And what does it really mean in context? Usually it’s the speaker whose company underwrote some conference. Let’s do away with it. I’m happy to hear from a plain old engaging speaker. Then we’ve got expert and its actionized experts say, advise or warn, most often used by lazy headline writers.

The pandemic has produced not just a stubborn virus, but a long list of stubborn clichés. Let’s retire these challenging timessocial distancingbubbles, and pivoting to this or that. Because pivoting leads to virtual something or other.

How about cutting back on common sense? Not actually having common sense, which seems to be a limited commodity. But rather using the phrase as if what you want, or what I want, is beyond argument by anyone but a dolt. To some people it makes perfectly common sense to, I don’t know, drink a glass of buttermilk every morning. When a pol calls this or that reform “common sense” your virtual antenna ought to quiver like Spiderman.

The federal information technology space (oy) spawns overused terms like a mama squid squirts out eggs. CIOs still don’t have a seat at the table. Now it’s a virtual table anyhow. Better to leave the table and follow the data. Whose data? A variant: It’s all about the data. What is? For that matter, users of the phrase It’s about… should have to put a dollar into the virtual doughnut collection jar every time they utter it.

Maybe tech people can take a break from drawing journey maps in pursuit of better customer experience and just figure out a way to make it easier for people to get what they want.

Back in the political sphere, both Democrats and Republicans have flung the term Russian propaganda at one other. I’m old enough to have a Medicare card. Since when did we hear anything other than propaganda from Russia? So now they put it on Facebook, and fool people into voting for those S.O.B.s on the other side. You get your information from Facebook? Prosecution rests.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By David Thornton

St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, is the patron saint of children. He’s also the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, prostitutes, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students in various cities and countries around Europe.

Source: Wikipedia

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