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The Phrase Freak: Shovel-Ready

this shovel is ready!The Phrase Freak is a column in which The Skwib questions the phrases that we hear or read in the media, and encourages you, the gentle reader, to mock people who use said phrases. “Shovel-ready” is the most recent neologism that is causing my ears to bleed. (My eyes just roll when I read it.)

Apparently this phrase has been around for some time, but it reached the dim consciousness of the media when President Obama used it on Meet the Press in early January. Since then reporters and talking heads have been repeating it like OCD parrots after too much espresso. (Yes, I’m saying that parrots drink espresso.) Clearly, this is the big BO’s first major gaffe.

The loathsome phrase crossed the border and infected the Great White North in the run up to today’s budget announcement. CBC Radio has an especially bad case. I seem to be hearing it about every other minute on CBC One. (And yes, all of the blood gushing out of my ears is making a mess of my office.)

It would be more bearable if just occasionally a reporter explained what he or she meant by the phrase; if you do a little digging (sorry), you’ll discover that it means infrastructure projects that are prepared for immediate action — all they need is the funding. It’s a buzzword, and the reality is that most “shovel-ready” projects are going to take a little while to get going, even if governments do find a way to cut through some of the red tape that wraps up most public works projects like a straitjacket of crazy-making (and intensely itchy) bureaucracy.

You know what’s shovel-ready? The face of anyone who says it. Bong!

Six gobsmacks out of ten (six repetitions of the scream)
Freak Level on this phrase: 6 gobsmacks out of 10.

Other freakish phrases:

specific timetable | full patch | IED | on the ground| Thanks to tanakawho for the shovel pick.

The Washington Post examines the etymology of shovel-ready. Alltop and humor-blogs.com and Christy Moore say “don’t forget your shovel if you want to go to work.” [youtube clip]


  1. Glad you raised this. First time I became aware of the phrase was on the radio as I was heading to a pre-budget community meeting. The phrase was used, again and again, at that meeting.

    There are some phrases that are cliches the first time they are uttered. This one qualifies. In spades, one might say.

  2. Shovel ready… hmmm, nevr heard it, but I’m more of a pick axe kind of dude.

  3. I thought it referred to politicians with PhDs.

  4. As a newspaper reporter, I’ve heard this more than enough times. Agreed: bury this one now.

  5. Can’t stand this! Love the last line. Yeah, line up that face!


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