By Tim Hayes

The wizened, grizzled old trainer, Mickey, leans over to his protégé in “Rocky III” and says, “Don’t worry, Kid. Presidents retire.  Generals retire.  Horses retire.  Man-O-War retired.  They put him out to stud.  That’s what you should do…retire.”

Of course, Rocky didn’t retire.  There were three more movies to make, after all.

But Mickey was right in the larger sense.  There comes a time when the time has come.   Pull off the highway.  Pencils down.  The party’s over.  Good night, good luck, and good news tomorrow.  You need to retire.  The same principle applies to language.

Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, recently posted its 38th annual “List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness” for 2012 – words and phrases that need to retire immediately.  Not surprisingly, “Fiscal Cliff” topped the list, and I couldn’t agree more.  Perhaps now that the financial crisis has been averted (or delayed, at least), we can stop whipping that dead rhetorical horse and let it rot in peace.

Seeing that university’s list caused me to think about some terms and phases that I wish would retire, as well.  Here are just a few.  See if you concur.

“Baked in” – used to connote the idea of embedding certain definitions or sets of behavior, as in: “We’d like to have our point of view baked in to this website.”  It is meant to convey a sense of acceptance and permanence.  

The first five hundred times I heard people say “baked in,” I thought it a clever turn of phrase.  Not so much anymore.  Clever becomes cloying in an amazingly short period of time.  

“Let me be clear” – typically used by politicians, this phrase actually means “I’m about to spout a well-rehearsed line that’s been vetted by my party to espouse a political point that I may or may not believe or even know is true.”

Not to be cynical.

It doesn’t matter which party the politician represents.  It doesn’t matter what the issue may be.  It doesn’t matter the audience, the time of day, or whether anybody’s even listening.  When you hear a politician in any situation say, “Let me be clear,” prepare to be lied to, or at the very least, pandered to. 

“This is a good start” – used by clients as a polite way of telling a creative person, “This sucks, I hate it, and we’re going to start over, right now.”  Having heard this line a few times in my career, especially in the early years, I know what’s coming next.  Rebuilding the levee, one word at a time. 

Truth is, I’d rather hear, “This sucks, I hate it, and we’re going to start over, right now.”  That’s what’s going to happen anyway, so let’s just be up-front about it. 

Scads of additional words and phrases that need to be put out to pasture continue to survive, the scourge and bane of intelligent, original thought.  “Random,”  “like,” “just sayin’,” and “awesome” pop to mind immediately. 

Another movie quote to make the point.  Professor Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” says to his street urchin student, Eliza Doolittle: “Think what you’re trying to accomplish. Think what you’re dealing with. The majesty and grandeur of the English language, it’s the greatest possession we have. The noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary, imaginative, and musical mixtures of sounds.”

Good grief, we’re the product of billions of years of evolutionary success.  Can’t we do better than this when it comes to language?

Copyright 2013 Transverse Park Productions LLC