Oh, so many expressions on TV news, about or from national figures, uttered by television hosts or guests, that often defy—but are badly in need of—translation.
Like “oh, he walked that back.” They make me want to scream.
Let me illustrate. Trump admits Russians helped him in his 2016 election, In. His. Own. Tweet!(Alex Ward,Vox, 30 May 19). Then, we are told he “walked that back.” Wait! Meaning? He didn’t mean it? He didn’t say it? We didn’t see it or hear it? Now, 20 minutes later, it’s denied? So, like, it didn’t happen? (The “thing”–the Russian help—or the admission). So, who ya’ gonna believe? Trump or your “lyin’ eyes?”
Yet, there it is – or was–in black and white. His own admission, in his own words (not even misspelled this time). And we are supposed to accept and, as if mobsters in New Jersey, just “Fuhgeddaboudit?” The use, misuse, and repetition of that now ubiquitous phrase, and others, is so irritating to me, I thought I would share with you my anguish. I will mention a few others and perhaps you could contribute even more that get under your skin.
How about the repeated ad nauseam (CNN, MSNBC,et al.) “that being said?” It usually comes at the end of a discourse, signaling a sharp turn, so the speaker can then begin to develop the very opposite of what s/he had just said. We are supposed to see them as very adroit, very deep, able to argue with themselves in a semi-scholarly, Socratic way. An attempt to show “fairness?”
And don’t get me started (oh, you already did) on “at the end of the day!” That one is generally a signal of a major point, summing it all up for us, and/or putting an end to an otherwise troubling newscast. Indeed, a whole litany of these now trite phrases can be linked together to form some sort of statement appearing to be cogent analysis. Even Kamala Harris, usually quite forthright, comes out, all too frequently, with “we have to have a conversation about that,” rather than stating clearly her position.
It might be fun to try grouping these phrases together ourselves: something like: “The White House urged the destroyer, U.S.S. John McCain (named also for his father and grandfather) to be hidden from view, lest Trump see it and throw a hissy fit” (NBC, 1 Jun 19). Then, sources “walked that back.” But, “that being said,” the damage to Trump’s ego was minimal, so “at the end of the day” we can all rest easy. The worst is over, for now. Let us hope he makes it home without further incident.
Then, a few other phrases, less memorized, not trotted out as often, but still bothersome to me: The speakers can pull them out of. . . well, the air. One pundit was talking about an implausible Trump-tweet regarding Mueller (whom he both chastises, then applauds, as his report did not go the whole way toward indictment). The newsman referred to Trump’s possible impeachable offenses, mentioning not impeachment but “The “Scarlet I.” I got it.
But how many other listeners, perhaps not familiar with Hawthorne, understood the oblique reference? (And what age and educational group are they trying to include?) Even a younger, more “woke” Joy Reed chimed in with a characterization of one of Trump’s rants (with made-up “facts”) as “out of Brigadoon.” As much as I loved that musical and adored Cyd Charisse, I’m not sure how many viewers share the same nostalgic memories.
More to the point: how many know the lingo of writing/publishing well enough to get the term “redacted?” And, why do not those who disseminate the news, rather than chiding us for “not reading,” read it to/for us instead? Perhaps a few pages, each night? Rachael? Bill Mahr? Stephen? Someone! They could do the same with the definition of “emoluments.” Just a little more help, here, please.
Viewers are grasping for knowledge, seeking not necessarily more information but more clarification—sometimes we can’t connect the dots alone. And, locally, now with no more NPR, so where do we, the general public, go for help? I can go to my former colleagues from the university, Drs. Polinard and Wenzel, authorities on Constitutional Law, for information and analysis of the spate of unconstitutional (anti-choice, anti-privacy) laws in the South. But where does the average citizen go?
So, CNN, MSNBC, yes, even Fox, please, (if corporate sponsors will allow) please provide clearer and fairer analysis of the meaning of public events.Help us read (between the lines) and see the real intent and meaning of statements and action of all types of officials and actors. While you are at it, please try to not misuse, misinterpret, over and over, the very crucial word “politics.”
“Politics” comes from the Greek, “polis.” It is a good word, not a bad word. It is a good thing, not a bad thing. Its root meaning was the City-State or, now, the Nation-State, meaning national policy for the good of all. To regurgitate the mantra: “oh, it’s so political,” suggesting angry, petty, personal or partisan division, is incorrect. It is misleading, perpetuating the notion that there is no community, no shared culture or sense of ethics, nopolis,larger than any one person or party.
If everything is now seen as “just politics” in that vulgar sense, then “Fuhgeddaboudit,” we are doomed, there is no hope. If, on the other hand, we choose to re-learn, to go to the roots of words, the roots of language, of civilization, of reasons for cooperation, then humanity is on the road to recovery.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows a painting of Aristotle and Plato.