Author Topic: Some Tangled Tropes that Annoy Me  (Read 5544 times)

Joe Carillo

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Some Tangled Tropes that Annoy Me
« on: June 11, 2010, 09:49:56 PM »
Some Tangled Tropes that Annoy Me
By Isabel Escoda

Maybe I’m just an old fogey, but I find much of the current lingo these days irritating.  The linguistic gymnastics, as it were, reminds me of how much more serious and logical the language sounded a few decades ago—before the Americans (probably the ones who coined these weird, often pesky words and phrases) came up with their clichés.

Admittedly, much of the current verbiage is pretty colorful, sometimes funny.  Take “belly up”—this was surely coined by a naturalist who wanted to make a point by reminding us what happens to animals when they expire. So, describing a company gone bankrupt as going “belly up” certainly conveys the right mood. But it’s hard to think of executives lying prone on their office floors, with their legs up—their faces covered by negative balance sheets!


The true authorities on all this jargon are certainly [the late] William Safire, the erudite New York Times language maven (that marvelous Yiddish term!), and the brilliant Briton Lynn Truss whose Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a witty, often hilarious compendium of today’s English terms,  expressions, and correct punctuation. [I love her story of the panda bear that entered a bar, had a snack, then took his gun to shoot someone and left the premises. That scene’s lack of punctuation made the bear out to be a lovable character feasting on bamboo shoots and leaves.]        

So in line with my query about how folks employed language then instead of using today’s strange words and expressions, I present a list of the tangled tropes that annoy me, along with some definitions that won’t always be accurate. I leave it to the grammar sticklers to correct them—or to give their own unique interpretations.

TAKE. Not so long ago, interviewers would ask, “Mr. Secretary, what’s your OPINION on the latest developments . . . ?”

“Take,” I gather, comes from the recording or filmmaking industry whose practitioners, after recording something or shooting a scene, go on to the next one, which is called a “take.” Since many folks these days are too lazy to use words of more than one syllable (like George W. Bush), “take” comes in handy when asking for an opinion.  

CUTTING EDGE. I don’t know why this one particularly grates on me the way a nail scratching a plate does, and why it presents the image of a sharp knife to my mind. Why is something new, the latest product or method, etc., described as being on the “cutting edge,” when it actually makes me think of something on the edge of a cliff that’s about to fall off; in other words, it’s headed for extinction.  

BOTTOM LINE. Right away I picture someone reading only the last line of each page of a report to get to the bottom of things. Surely that would make one miss all the other important items written above the bottom, wouldn’t it? So I prefer that old-fashioned phrase “boils down to” because this phrase makes me think of a cook throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot to condense everything, then to make an extract that embodies what one wants to obtain from the whole concoction—that is, the essence.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX. This supposedly implies that a conservative person’s thoughts are always boxed in, hence orthodox and unimaginative. Okay, so breaking down barriers and going beyond boundaries makes for better theories, calculations, and judgments. But why “box” (cardboard or wooden)? Why not “fence” or “jail” or Berlin Wall or DMZ?

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE. I believe this is supposed to mean engaging in a most daring act, going the limit. What does stationery have to do with it? Why not pushing the pad paper, or notebook or pen? An envelope holds messages, so why is that considered daring?

TIPPING POINT. The extraordinary Malcolm Gladwell popularized this term, but why do those two words (like “cutting edge”) make me think of a precipice, of someone standing on the edge with someone behind him ready to shove him down? I believe the term is used to denote the climax of something, the moment when one experiences an epiphany, but why use such a flippant word like “tipping” instead of something more momentous and earthshaking?

IN THE LOOP. If you aren’t in the know (an old-fashioned term), you’re behind the times—nobody wants you, you aren’t in demand, therefore unpopular. But where the loop comes into all this, only the Lord knows—since loops make me think of my mother knitting or of the knots Boy Scouts make or of the ropes the Ku Klux Klan used to throw over trees from which to hang Blacks.

NITTY GRITTY. I believe this has taken over from the old “black and white,” but I may be wrong. “I won’t believe you unless you give it to me in black and white,” the unbeliever says. Today “getting down to the nitty gritty” denotes getting down to the basics. Lice eggs (nits) and grit (bits of dirt) have nothing to do with it.

Oh okay, so it’s only languages like Latin that are static and dead. The English lexicon, which keeps on evolving, has long been alive and well—take the younger generation’s bizarreries like their hip-hop lingo, the gap word “like” sprinkled into every sentence, and other repetitive stuff that gets on my nerves. That particular stuff irritates me like a piece of grit in my eye would.

As I said, I’m probably just an old fogey, stuck inside the box and out of the loop! So apropos of nothing, I end this with my version of the Woody Allen tale about the young fellow leaving home. His atheist mother’s parting gift is a bullet, and he goes through life with the bullet in his pocket. Sure enough one day, when someone throws a Bible at him, it’s deflected by the bullet—which succeeds in keeping him an atheist forever! Now that truly is pushing the envelope!
« Last Edit: January 13, 2017, 07:50:58 AM by Joe Carillo »