When Hillary Clinton, in an intense primary battle with Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, said she was ready to lead the country from day one, she started an avalanche of everyday people using day one. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says the use of these words to indicate the start or the beginning of something dates back to 1971, but, in my opinion, it wasn’t really common in the popular vernacular until an estimated 2.5 million people watched the candidates debate in 2008.
I have no big objection to day one. It’s catchy and emphatic enough. By contrast, I never could stand hearing Hillary’s husband, President Bill Clinton, saying how he thought we could grow the economy back in the 1990s. Before the era of Bill, the verb to grow meant to raise something, specifically something organic. Now, it has acquired a second meaning: to improve or increase.
This is unfortunate, and it makes my brain hurt, but, clearly, there is no going back.
I wish I had studied linguistics. Scholars, I am sure, can pinpoint the origins of such changes in English, and revel in tracing those changes, rather than just wincing and moaning about them. I am afraid, however, that at heart I am a dyed-in-the-wool conservative where language is concerned. Call me a word curmudgeon.
Would you like to know another emerging usage that raises my hackles? It is when people say to gift when they really mean simply to give. As in: The sponsors of the V.I.P. suite gifted all the Oscar nominees with swag bags of goodies.
How about the words “going forward”? I certainly would not use them to mean in the future and would ban this phrase from The Star if anyone would pay attention to me. The TV pundits say going forward all the time, these days, so I have to assume that those who use it in everyday speech are addicted to television news programs. (It’s almost as bad as at this point in time, another morsel of television-ese that makes my hair stand on end.)
Then there are the overused words “transparent” and “transparency.” They are frequently heard lately in a political context, meaning the actions of a government entity are available for public perusal or the reasons for a decision are clear — or not. But Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary hasn’t caught on to this definition yet. It still gives the first definition of transparent as “the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly,” although its second definition, “free from pretense or deceit,” gets closer. This is one case in which I think the new usage is actually useful: It gets to the heart of a previously somewhat complex idea, in short order.
Right here is where I should end this column with the maladroit “that said” (or, perhaps, even the ear-torturing that having been said). But, well . . . do I need to say more?