Edward Southerland: Word inflation
By Edward Southerland
Jun 30, 2017
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In the realm of finance, one of the great concerns is inflation. An inflated economy, like a balloon, is mostly air, money is worth less and sooner or later the whole thing collapses on itself. Through monetary policy, the government tries to keep inflation from getting out of hand.

Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, was a stalwart fighter against this dilution of the nation’s wealth, and I put it to you, that the time has come for a Greenspan clone to take charge of the nation’s language to fight “word inflation.”

Word inflation occurs when traffickers in the language start making up or misusing words to make things seem more important than they are. It also is a product of hiding what one does behind language.

The principal villains in this regard are the advertising business and Washington, the government business. The entertainment industry and the sports reporting mavens also fuel the inflationary fires with regular contributions. And let’s don’t forget the political correctness crowd, they too have done a lot to inflate the lingo lately.

Let’s look at the evidence. A few years ago, the ad guys decided that pants were no longer chic. Almost over night, ad copy was filled with references to “our new sport pant.” Shorts got the same treatment and became “a short.” Pants and shorts have been paired, at least linguistically, with the all important “s” on the end, ever since the leg coverings were two separate articles of clothing held together with a string, sort of like chaps. Abandoning the centuries old usage in an effort to be more hip at the hip is inflation run wild.

A recent advertisement touted a new line of “woven” shirts. Woven shirts? How else do you make cloth? I investigated. Woven shirts are plain old shirts. The woven is meant to provide a totally unnecessary distinction from knit shirts, like the ones sporting alligators. (Aside: Actually those critters on LaCoste shirts are crocodiles. The logo comes from the nickname of French tennis great Renee LaCoste, who was known as “the crocodile.”) An advertising copywriter somewhere came up with the “woven” idea to make folks they were getting something new and different. The word, in the given context, is completely unnecessary. It is inflationary.

Of course sometimes words necessarily shift meanings because of changes. The pocket watch did not exist prior the World War 1. The little machine one carried around to tell the time was simply a watch. The Great War brought about the wide use of the “wrist” watch, so named to differentiate it. As the wristwatch became the norm it lost the explanatory “wrist,” and became a watch. At the same time “pocket” was added to identify the fast disappearing model that one carried rather than wore. The motion pictures went thorough a similar transformation from movies to talkies to movies to silents.

More directly inflationary are terms like “pre-owned.” Forget for a moment that you can’t own something before you own it, the actual meaning of the phrase. What’s wrong with “used?” Not toney enough, I guess.

Inflation in job titles and descriptions long has been a fertile ground for abuse of the mother tongue. Some where along the way, salesmen became sales representatives and consultants, janitors became custodians became maintenance superintendents and typists became data entry specialists. The guys who used to mow the yard morphed into landscapers and mechanics into service technicians. If anyone could find a gas station that was not self-service, I suspect the gas would be pumped by a fossil fuels injection/dispensation technician.

A quick look at the classified ads in any paper will see jobs for personal and administrative assistants. These people used to be secretaries. The political correct commissars have decreed that waiters and waitresses no longer exist, having been replaced by wait staff and waitrons.

Lloyds of London say they will no longer refer to ships as “she.” That taken care of, can it be long before the bride and groom exchange join benefit proposals as co-participants in a socioeconomic domestic fusion exercise. And calling an illegal alien an undocumented immigrant is like calling a bank robbery an undocumented withdrawal.

Sports announcers, who seem to think they are being paid by the word, decided that fast no longer applied to athletes. The runners, jumpers, catchers, and hitters now exhibit foot speed or hand speed or bat speed or superior quickness.

Quarterbacks who once changed the play at the line of scrimmage and later called an audible, as opposed, I guess, to calling an inaudible which no one would hear, now audiblize to their teammates. The act is called audibilization and one assumes that if the defense tries to jam them up the term anti-audibilzation might come into play. This crowd has also given us vertical passing, edge rushers, and course, "control their own destiny" even though destiny is fate and unalterable save by the Gods of the gridiron.

Thanks to the government we have deficit spending. It used to be called borrowing. A spending cut does not mean spending less. It means spending more but at a lesser percentage of increase. And of course, thanks to a former presidential wordsmith and his gang of spinmeisters, we ponder over what “is” is and what alone means and when is a lie not a lie but an alternative truth variation.

I get dizzy just trying to type this stuff. Excuse me, input the alpha-numeric data into the word processing application.