December 19, 2013 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Words and phrases to leave in 2013

By The Spokesman-Review
 

As we near year’s end, all the lists of bests and worsts are coming out. Among the more interesting, to me at least, are the lists of popular words and phrases/new words coined and something on the order of word of the year.

Not to let all the national folks hog the spotlight, I have my own words and phrases to contribute, though they occupy a subset in the trend department – words I really, really hate. Top of the list for me is any word that is said with vocal fry, which it seems is close to every utterance by a starlet or female younger than 30 in any public arena.

I’ve written about vocal fry before, but I’d hoped it was an odious trend that would flare and flame out, kind of like how that end-of-sentence lift in Valley Girl-speak did a few years back. But alas, vocal fry is a creeping fungus that is spreading. Hence it merits revisiting and reviling.

By way of definition, vocal fry is that creaky vocal pattern, most often used by women, at the lower end of an individual’s vocal range that makes the voices sound like it’s about to crack apart. When this aberration first appeared, it was deployed only occasionally in sentences. But now I hear it throughout speech, beginning to end, and I even observed a spokeswoman for some product or other in a television commercial use that little-girl frog voice without uttering one word in her normal range. I will never, ever buy the thing she was selling.

It is an affectation. I know this not because I am an expert – though I did check it out with a professor of communication disorders – but because I hear the pattern in people who didn’t use to have it. It’s learned and imitated and then becomes the unconscious default style of speaking.

And though it annoys me mightily, more importantly, it’s not good for one’s vocal cords. I am informed that it was once considered a speech defect by professionals.

Moving on. There is a phrase that bothers me – no worries. I excused myself once when I bumped into someone, and he replied “no worries.” What does that mean exactly? I wasn’t worried, and if I had been, it wouldn’t have been over bumping into him. And if I had worried about it, it would have been a singular worry, not a plural one.

I’m also having trouble with the word bipartisan. It’s more of a philosophical thing for me, as I really think it’s a dinosaur – in other words, extinct. If a whole bunch of Republicans get one Democrat to vote with them, it’s considered a bipartisan event. Or if some Dems pull off an issues discussion attended by one Republican, it’s a bipartisan meeting. I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure we’ve lost the ability to conjure up the dinosaur, so let’s find another word for what’s being touted as the now-defunct ability to actually work together. So for the aforementioned scenarios, how about the word flukish?

I’m also not so fond of all the words that go into the happy chat of people in service industries. I realize there are reasons for it, but I was taken aback when a checker at the grocery store asked me what I was up to that day. Clearly, grocery shopping. It occurred to me to say I was on my way home to begin my prep for a colonoscopy, but I realized that she was following company policy, and I shouldn’t be mean to her. But then she asked, did I have any fun things planned for the weekend? Um, none of your business actually (though I didn’t say that). Is it just me or is that way too personal from a stranger?

I would like to object in general to making odd verbs out of perfectly good nouns and adjectives, often done by slapping on the suffix “ize” – incentivize, weaponize, actualize, etc. And, of course, probably the biggest offender as we verbize things is the word friend, unaltered. Yes I know where it came from and how it got here, but I don’t want to friend you. It just sounds all trendy and wrong. I am however perfectly happy to be your (noun) friend.

I know that the national word of the year will no doubt be something quite clever – I read that selfie is the leading contender – but I am compelled to offer up my own word. It’s not new or faddish or funny. It’s curmudgeon. It’s me. It’s a word I can embrace and call my own – this year and probably for years to come.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at upwindsailor@ comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/ columnists/.

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