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IMHO: A Loss for Words

By Ron Scopelliti

I’m sorry these columns are so long. I try to keep them to around 750 words, but I still feel like I use too many words. This revelation was brought on by the president’s State of the Union Address.

What got me questioning my wordiness was that in all the newspaper and web coverage leading up to the address, writers kept referring to it as “SOTU”. I’ve been watching State of the Union Addresses since the Nixon era, and this year is the first time I can remember “State of the Union” being abbreviated.

It shouldn’t have surprised me. More and more I’ve been hearing President of the United States abbreviated as POTUS and Supreme Court of the United States abbreviated as SCOTUS. The only thing I wonder about is why the word “address” isn’t included in the State of the Union acronym to make it SOTUA. Maybe three syllables are too much for an acronym.

SOTU actually doesn’t bother me as much as SCOTUS and POTUS. They make me uncomfortable because they sound vaguely medical. I can imagine a lost episode of Star Trek where Dr. McCoy diagnoses Scotty with an inflamed SCOTUS, and warns him to be more careful on shore leave.

There just seems to be an increasing trend to abbreviate everything. Language laziness. But I suppose I shouldn’t complain about abbreviations in a column that has one as a title. I’m as guilty of abbreviation as anyone else. I can’t remember the last time I said “Massachusetts Avenue” instead of “Mass Ave.” But nobody says the whole name of the street, and if I did people would look at me like I was crazier than the POTUS.

I think that, as a society, we’ve gone too far in our language laziness. It’s easy to place the blame on texting and social media shorthand, but our laziness extends far beyond Twitter and Facebook.

For instance, when did “macaroni and cheese” become “mac and cheese?” When did we become too lazy to spit out the whole four syllables of “macaroni?” I could also ask when and why the pedestrian dish started becoming trendy and having truffles and prosciutto added to it, but that could be a column on its own.

Using too many words, as I’m well on my way to doing with this column, is equally lazy. There’s an often-told story among journalists of a reporter handing a lengthy story over to his editor and saying, “Sorry. I would have made it shorter if I had more time.”

One of the excessively wordy phrases that annoys me most is when people say “in any way, shape, or form.” Saying “in any way,” is wordy in itself, because it really doesn’t mean anything. But when you stretch it out to “in any way, shape, or form,” you just compound the sin by tripling its meaningless.

And why are the words only ever used in that order. How come nobody ever says “in any form, shape, or way?” Could people at least show a little creativity by varying the wording, perhaps to “any manner, profile, or configuration?” It’s equally redundant, and even wordier, but at least it shows some originality.

Another pet peeve is when people say “easy peasy” Peasy isn’t a word – my spell check confirms this by underlining it in red every time I type it (though it also does this with my last name). Have we reached the level of linguistic laziness where we have to start making up words to increase our wordiness? Then again, maybe the phrase itself is a concrete illustration of ease. What could be easier than creating a rhyme by simply making up a word that fits?

I could go on and on pointing out useless phrases like “to be honest,” which implies that everything previous to the phrase was dishonest, or “I’m just sayin’…” which I still haven’t nailed down all the implications of. Feel free to point out the laziness I exhibited by ending the previous sentence with a preposition.

So I’m at that awkward point where I realize that despite all my criticism, I don’t really have a constructive solution to offer, and I’m just as lazy as the next guy. Maybe I should accept lazy language as a good thing, because it makes communication easier, and the more communication we have, the better.

I suppose I have to accept it because I’m quickly closing in on 750 words. All that’s left to say is “going AFK – TTFN.