If we could just progress this headline please to impact the reader eyeball to eyeball

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The Independent Online
I received a letter the other day from someone I had tentatively agreed to write a piece for, and who now wanted to make the whole thing definite. However, that is not the expression he used, "to make it definite". Nor did he use another expression which I always find odd, "to firm it up". He actually used an expression which I had never heard before. "Please can we now progress the article?"

I did not know that "progress" could be used as a transitive verb, that you could actually "progress" something. And of course you can't. At least you couldn't. But it only takes someone brave enough (or ignorant enough) to ignore the impossibility and actually DO it, and turn a noun into a verb, and after that it only takes enough people to think it is a useful usage, for it to catch on.

There must have been a time, for instance, when "process" was only a noun. The first time it was used as a verb meaning to put something through a process, lots of people must have shuddered, but now it has become a useful little verb, and if someone says to me that they are going to process my application, I don't flinch. Well, I do, but that's only because I know that any processing of any application takes a long time.

"Access" as a verb I still find hard to take, however. The other day I heard someone on the radio saying that it was always very helpful for immigrants when they came to a new country if they could "access" the language of the host culture, and I still cannot see why "access" is better than "talk" or "understand". It's lazy computer jargon, I'm afraid.

I also dread the phrase "to impact on", which only means "to affect". And I still worry about the word "source", which seems to be a useless alternative to "get" or "obtain". "How do you source your supplies?" is surely no better than, "Where do you get your supplies from?" and twice as pretentious. Not long ago on The Food Programme on Radio 4 I heard someone - not, I hope, the great Derek Cooper - asking a chef: "How do you source your ingredients?" and it didn't seem to occur to anyone on the programme that all the audience must have heard it as, "How do you sauce your ingredients?"

Well, we all have our hate phrases. Gillian Reynolds wrote the other day, after listening to a discussion on the Millennium Dome, the so-called "People's Dome", that the phrase that made her gorge rise was not anything to do with Millennium or Dome but any phrase beginning with "people's" - "People's Princess", "people's choice" and so on.

Paul Dickson actually took the trouble to write down in 1983 a whole list of cliches and clapped-out phrases which bothered him, and the horrifying thing is that most of them are still current. Bill Bryson is not the first American to be funny and to write books about language; Paul Dickson has been doing it for years. In 1983 Arena Books published a paperback of his called Words which just listed lots of his favourite words. One chapter, for instance, was a list of expressions for being drunk: 2,331 of them, in fact. The first man who ever listed words for being drunk was Benjamin Franklin, says Dickson, and he managed 228 in 1733, so we have progressed since then in some ways.

But the chapter I want to draw your attention to is the one called "Junk Words", in which Dickson lists his own personal hate list of "buzzwords which have lost their glitter", cliches which have gone beyond the point of usefulness. Here is a short selection made by me, not at random, but on purpose to show that it takes a long time for buzzwords to vanish after their sell-by date.

"Absolutely, at this point in time, back burner, ball-park figure, bite the bullet, bottom line, can of worms, communicate, community, craft (noun & verb), decasualise, disadvantaged, eyeball to eyeball, feedback, first the good news..., free lunch, fully cognisant, game plan, go for it, hang a left, humongous , impact (as a verb), input, interface, low profile, matrix, meaningful dialogue, modular, ongoing, outreach, overview, peer group, piece of the action, prior to, role model, seminal, task force, touch base with, within the context of..."

Now, I am not saying that none of these expressions is useful, though I cannot imagine myself wanting to use any of them. What I would maintain, along with Dickson, is that they are all worn-smooth cliches. And what is horrifying is that he made this list in 1982, when the book first appeared in America. Yes, 16 years ago these expressions all seemed hackneyed and they are all still as common as cold germs. If the test of a culture is to come up with new cliches, then we are performing very badly.