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

Share
Related Topics
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.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin