Archive | The Phrase Freak

Why Those 25 Things About You Aren’t “Random”

The Phrase FreakThis is one that has been festering for some time, so please forgive the Phrase Freak if he goes “off the Bale” a bit. Like many changes to the English language, the meaning of this word has become twisted. Once, it defined something that was done without a method or choice, something determined by chance.

It did not mean something unexpected, strange, improvised, capricious, absurd, and cheese-eating monkeys flying out of my butt. (See that last one was absurd, a non sequitur for sure, but it was not random, even if it might have seemed that way to you.)

Now the Great Beast (Facebook) has slouched its way into the Bethlehem of my daily routine with an epidemic of lists (which by their nature tend to be the opposite of random) giving me supposedly “random” facts about the people I love and admire. Many of these people are incredibly literate. Way smarter than me. Yet they have fallen under the sway of the googly-eyed siren that spawned the phrase, “that’s, like, so totally random.”

It is easy to mistake great complexity or subtlety for randomness. I’d be willing to bet that most of those lists are:

  • carefully chosen
  • written to achieve a specific effect
  • tomato paste.

I’m afraid this usage gets eight gobsmacks out of ten. We’re on full alert now people!

Eight gobsmaks out of ten

Other freakish phrases:

Shovel Ready | specific timetable | full patch | IED | on the ground

You can check the definition of random yourself. Yardsitck! Alltop’s lack of coherence should not be considered random either. This was originally published in 2009, and I’m only repeating it now because I have heard it used by students so much recently.

You post to your blog, not blog to your blog!

The Phrase FreakDo you blog? Yes? Then when you sit down to write something for that blog, do you “write a blog” or do you “write a post”?

If you answered “write a blog”, then you are one of the doofus digerati that makes the Phrase Freak cry.

It’s a common error (especially on MySpace) and one that is understandable. The blog is still a relatively new phenomenon (not in web years, but in the writing world), so the conventions are still shaking out. That said, this is an error in usage that we should all try to stamp out now, while there’s still time. (I’m still upset that phrase freaks and grammarians everywhere were unable to prevent the odious “proactive” or even worse, “moving forward.“)

If you were writing an article or story for a newspaper, would you say, I’m writing a newspaper? Of course not, that would sound ridiculous. (Unless you’re a one-person operation, in which case it may be accurate, but still sound absurd.)

If you were writing a sit-com would you say, I’m writing a TV? Only if you were the Vice-President of TV.


  • writing a (blog) post
  • writing a blog entry
  • posting to a blog
  • writing
  • posting
  • blogging.

This gets 4 gobsmacks out of 10:
4 gobsmacks out of 10

Alltop is all about the humor usage.

On the ground

The Phrase FreakThe Phrase Freak is all about examining the phrases that we hear on a regular basis through the media, but somehow never question. “On the ground” is one such construction that make me mental.

My theory is this dates back to the first Gulf War, when anchors started asking reporters about the state of affairs “on the ground”. The reason they did this was because so much of that first war — and the journalism around it — was about the air war. Even back then, I’m not sure the phrase made a lot of sense, but I accepted it, because there was really little information about what said air war was doing to people “on the ground”. Now, I regret not having stepped in sooner with a big stick of shame-whammy.

Flash forward twenty years, and still, anchors and reporters use this phrase, but now it is totally disconnected from its original context. Anchors regularly ask about the state of things “on the ground”. Except for the occasional airline hijacking and submarine accident, the vast majority of news stories actually take place on the ground, to ask about the ground specifically is kind of redundant, if not outright silly.

On the ground -- pic of sidewalkJust once I’d like to hear a reporter say, “well Bill, there are a few ants milling around what appears to be a crumb of bread … no, no strike that, it’s a piece of donut. Next to this frenzied activity, I can see a few dead leaves and Oh My God — there is a crack in the sidewalk! We can’t tell if this crack is growing or the result of some kind of seismic activity, but we’ll check into it for you Bill.”

Then maybe it would stop.

Freak level on this phrase: 8 gobsmacks out of 10.
8 gobsmacks out of 10

Alltop is an aerial war aggregator. Sidewalk photo by Meganne Soh. Originally published, January 2006. (Obviously, not very effective at stopping this linguistic excrescence.)

The banished words list: futility in the Age of Fail

The Phrase FreakThe Phrase Freak heartily supports the efforts of Lake Superior State University to find those words that are most obnoxious, most odious, and clearly damaging to the glory that is the English language. However, this year’s list is a little weak.

Many of the words on the list are related to the Internet, and therein, we see the true motivations of this banished words list. It is link bait. (And very effective link bait, too. I noticed they had more than 9,000 shares on Facebook and I myself shared the link on Twitter.) As I say, I agree with many of the words listed, “epic” in particular, but I would like to confine myself to the term “fail”.

Fail is verb. A fine verb to describe something that is at the heart of the human condition. Without failure, there is no opportunity to learn. To live. So to turn it into a noun or adjective is not merely an linguistic excrescence, it’s symptomatic of the meanness of our age. (Unlike the nominators in the banned word list, I don’t want to turn this into a generational issue.)

Homer Simpson becomes the new Fail Whale

“Fail” is used to describe everything from mistakes, bad judgment, slip ups to non-human server failure, for example Twitter’s infamous “fail whale”. (Pictured above with Homer instead of the whale.) In fact, anything that is less than a success is seen as a “fail”. And this is all from the perspective of the person using the word too, so a “fail” from one, may be a “succeed” from another. (Yes, that would be the antonym in logic of this usage was extended.)

It’s meant to be funny and ironic, but it’s massively overused, though not on an epic scale. (Ahem.)

And instead of being funny, it tends to be mean, snide, snarky, and sometimes simply cruel. But it is now in such common parlance, that I fear this one may become a permanent fixture of our crude and roughshod culture.

You can find the banished words list here, and in yes, the usage of “fail” gets eight gob-smacks out of 10:

8 gobsmacks out of 10

Alltop is full of succeed. The hilarious Homer fail whale is by Ed Wheeler, found here.

Those Pernicious Business Clichés

Tolbert WhistlebottomTolbert Whistlebaum had a deep and abiding love for the English language, which is why he took a doctorate at Oxfjord University, concentrating on Naughty Victorian Literature.

His scholarship was insufficient to cover his tuition and his love affair with first edition copies of Richard Burton’s translation of the Kama Sutra (eventually they became unreadable), so he took on a copy-editing job with the marketing division of Gargantuan Enterprises. His boss was a lovely and exciting woman, but she did nothing to stop the linguistic excrescences that his co-workers produced on a daily basis.

He is pictured here, shortly before he did a little “rightsizing” at the company through a new “aggressive interface paradigm.”

Everyone agreed — including the judge — that his presentation was quite “impactful”.

Alltop is constantly monetizing their outside-the-box thinking, and moving forward too.

The Phrase Freak: Moving Forward

The Phrase FreakThis piece of hackery is most often heard in business settings, but I’m afraid it has even crept into the hallowed halls of academe, where one is as likely to hear Latin freakery such as sui generis.

It tends to be used in one of two ways, both of which are like dragging a mailed glove over a blackboard (see video below).

The most common use is to say something like, “moving forward, this project will take us into the future, where happy unicorns and horny leprechauns will help us impact the bottom line, probably more than we’d like.” (We shall discuss “impact” in another column .) Like, at this point in time, this is an extremely silly phrase because its saying, really, moving forward in time.

But until we have invented a working time machine, we have NO CHOICE but to move forward in time. Moving backward (in time) is not an option people! And really, what self-respecting person wants to move backward, unless it’s away from some kind of danger, or an abhorrent phrase like “it is what it is”.

The other use is to segue from one topic of conversation/item in an agenda, to the next. Let’s just all agree not to do this anymore, okay? It’s torture!

Almost as torturous as this (slide forward to the 8:53 mark):

YouTube Preview Image

You can find it at YouTube if the embedded thingy doesn’t work.

So this one gets seven out of ten gobsmacks:
Seven out of ten gobsmacks

Like me, alltop and both pretend to understand Latin phrases too.