Posts Tagged ‘Alexander Cockburn’

Giving the Ax to Annoying Expressions

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

By Michael Kaufman

Have you ever been in a meeting where the person speaking—maybe some big-shot where you work—looks knowingly at someone else and says, “Let’s talk off line about that later?” I don’t like it even if I am the one being addressed: you know, the “insider” privy to whatever it is the big-shot doesn’t want discussed in the presence of the group. It just seems rude. Of course more often than not the person who says “let’s talk off line” isn’t a big-shot at all. It’s some jerk who wants to be a big-shot and talks like that to seem important.

If Alexander Cockburn hadn’t left us for a worse place in 2012 he’d have probably gotten around to putting “let’s talk off line” on his list to be dealt with by Prosecutor Antoine Fouqiuier-Tinville of French Revolution fame. “The keen blade of justice must fall swiftly on the word ‘tsunami’ which has turned into a cliché with astonishing speed,” wrote Cockburn just a few weeks before he died. “Its use is mainly to add verbal spice and drama to usually mundane events by suggesting that what is happening is massive, devastating, and unstoppable.” Thus, a federal prosecutor for the Southern District of Florida said of a case of identity theft tax fraud, “The IRS is doing what they can to prevent this, but this is like a tsunami of fraud.” Sure enough, wrote Cockburn, “‘Tsunami of Fraud’ was in the headline in the International Herald Tribune version.…”

A couple of months earlier it was “the new normal” that received what Cockburn said was “a well-deserved turn in the tumbrel.” According to Cockburn, the term “only refers to degeneration and deterioration—political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, and so on. That our kids are graduating from college with no job prospects and debts approaching a home mortgage is the new normal.”

I thought of Cockburn the other day when I was checking out my groceries at a local supermarket, part of a chain that has kept its employees from being unionized. The employee who scanned the items at the cash register wore a badge with her name on it, under which it described her as “Customer Service Representative.” Walmart and other large companies notorious for low pay and lousy benefits refer to their workers as “associates.” I guess they think that will give the employees a sense of self-worth that will make them less inclined to organize. Come to think of it, when was the last time you heard anyone proclaim, “Associates of the world unite!”

Finally, when did it become okay to start using the word “junk” to describe male genitalia? This is happening with increasing frequency, especially in articles about dopey celebrities who expose themselves for whatever reason, and whose pictures circulate widely on “social media” (another overused term that may be worthy of consideration by Fouquier-Tinville). I don’t know about you but I was still having trouble getting used to “package.”

The quotes from Cockburn in this post are from A Colossal Wreck, a posthumous collection of his writings from 1995 to 2012, and subtitled “A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption and American Culture.” It’s a great read even when you find yourself vehemently disagreeing with him. And he was nothing short of prophetic in some of his predictions, which, for better but mostly for worse, have come to fruition since his passing.

Michael can be reached at