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Turnoffs of phrase

Fri., Jan. 1, 2010

‘Shovel ready’ tops school’s list of hated wordage

DETROIT – In its annual effort to protect the Queen’s English, a Michigan university insists that “shovel ready” be buried, “tweet” be tossed and all “czars” be banished.

Lake Superior State University on Thursday released its 2009 List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

It insists that “shovel ready,” at the top of the list, incessantly invoked by the Obama administration to sell its $787 billion federal stimulus bill, dug its own grave. It forced its way into speeches and out of the mouths of the president and too many other politicians in past months.

“Stick a shovel in it. It’s done,” seethed Joe Grimm, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., in his nomination to the university’s Word Banishment Committee. Grimm is a visiting journalist at Michigan State University.

The exact age of the phrase isn’t known, but it had been a quiet favorite of economic development types for at least a decade. But “shovel ready” became a clarion call for the White House during the past year as shorthand for the kind of taxpayer-funded work projects that had been through the design and permitting process and were ready to launch.

Still, its vigor waned from verbal wear and tear in recent months. It didn’t help that some of the projects weren’t quite ready for a shovel, the literal or figurative kind.

“When something dies, it, too, is ‘shovel ready’ for burial and so I get confused about the meaning,” wrote Jerry Redington, of Keosauqua, Iowa. “I would suggest that we just say that the project is ready to implement.”

Many other terms related to the federal stimulus – or the failing economy that inspired it – have been thrown into the semantic scrap heap for 2010, including “stimulus” (the more blunt “bailout” bit the dust last year), “toxic assets” and “too big to fail.” Apparently, failure was an option.

“Shovel ready” is survived by many other scrutinized phrases, including “death panel,” “low-hanging fruit” and “door-buster,” and none should assume immortality. The Word Banishment Committee doesn’t shy away from executing its duties.

Among the previously banished: “24/7” (which made the list in 2000), “it is what it is” (2008), “happy camper” (1993), “LOL” (2004) and “state of the art” (1993).


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