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“Been there; done that”

John Rentoul

JemimaKhan Been there; done thatContinuing my series of endorsements of my book, The Banned List, by academics and other famous people, here are some comments from some English professors and a journalist.

Professor Thomas Cable, co-author of The English Language and its History:

My own loathsome clichés are: ‘at the end of the day’, ‘the bottom line’, ‘Let’s not go there’, ‘Been there, done that’, ‘Well, duh’, and ‘Hello?’ with interrogative intonation.

David Cameron, he means you (that bit in your conference speech where you quoted Ed Balls saying Labour spent only what it had “available” and you said, “Hello?”). Typically, Professor Cable was back in touch the next day:

Two more from this morning’s papers: ‘wake-up call’ (Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman) and ‘reality check’.

Professor Stephen Regan, Durham University:

I have a few examples of words and phrases that I find deeply irritating. The tendency to qualify uniqueness is common, so politicians and newsreaders will often refer to events as ‘quite unique’ or ‘very unique’. We regularly hear that one thing ‘interfaces with’ another, when it simply ‘relates to’ that other thing.

He, too, was back for another go.

I really do hate hearing the awful, “And I was like, ‘I’m off to Starbuck’s now for a coffee’.
“And she was like, ‘Well, that’s really cool’.
“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna sit there all day and waste my time’.”

Dr Simon J James, senior lecturer in Victorian literature, Durham University:

Sports commentary is especially prone to cliché and lazy usage. The unnecessary perfect tense -’he’s gone down the wing’, ‘he’s put the ball away’. Bizarre plurals ‘your Stephen Gerrards’, ‘your Frank Lampards’. Also lack of thought given to adjectives – custody battles are always ‘bitter’ – participants too are always ‘locked’ in them.

And his second thoughts?

Also, I hate nouns turned into adjectives in business jargon – can you progress/action/cascade/progress – worst of all.  ’Once the paperwork is in, can we progress this further?’ Worse in the active than the passive, for some reason.

Meanwhile, Jemima Khan (above) says she is enjoying The Banned List “v much” but is a bit paranoid that she was sent a free copy. I told her it was because she is a proactive thought leader able to connect with a forward agenda. Not sure she thought that was funny.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Deborah-Carr/880020260 Deborah Carr

    Dr. Simon James I’m with you on that one! Also, verbs changed to nouns, e.g., the north/south divide. It’s DIVISION!

  • ZacMurdoch

    Professor Regan isn’t quite right (see what I did there?*).  The OED definition of ‘quite’ is ‘completely, entirely, wholly’ – so ‘quite unique’ is a superfluity rather than a qualification.

    *one of my own dislikes, but I think it’s already on the list.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RWQW5VGWYSRA5K3VBT7ZWOEJLE Stephen

    Mr Rentoul, beware!  The ‘banned list’ is becoming so long that it is sucking up every single rich, colourful expression and phrase in the language and leaving behind the bare bones (is that a banned locution!?) of merely functional grammar and syntax.  Why is ‘Hello?’ a banned expression when it succinctly and humorously replaces a dull and cumbersome locution such as ‘I think you need to pay more attention’.  Perhaps Mr Rentoul would like to flog another book suggesting what we should say instead of using the banned expressions.  For example, what do you say instead of ‘the bottom line is…’?  ’The lowest point at which this issue becomes critical is…’?  Is that really any better or merely longer?  Or, if ‘reality check’ is banned, should we say, ‘a realignment of our presently warped perspective with a more normative viewpoint’?  The point about many of the ‘banned’ expressions is that they caught on precisely because they offered an immediately understandable short hand phrase for a concept otherwise long-winded to express.  ’Let’s not go there’ is an excellent expression.  Instead of saying ‘I’m not going to discuss that with you because it may cause one or both of us to become irate’, you can avoid opposing the refusing ‘I’ and the accusative ‘you’ with ‘let’s not’, a gentle, inclusive suggestion to avoid conflict.  I suspect the underlying reason most people have a list of words they don’t like is that they are all new.  Linguistic research has shown a widespread distaste in older people for adopting expressions coined after they stopped learning language.  The ‘banned list’ is essentially a list of expressions coined since Mr Rentoul stopped learning English and, somewhat foolishly in my opinion, started judging it.

  • leo from chicago

    Recommendations for a 2nd Ed.:

    - ‘Conversation’ (used to impart a false sense of poignancy or sincerity) as in ‘we need to engage in a conversation about this’

    - ‘Disruptive’ (over-used to indicate how original the person using it is when talking about something new) as in ‘this is my 49th example this morning of a disruptive technology that will completely change everything we know”.

  • ARealJournalist

    Perhaps you should buy yourself a dictionary and look up the word “endorsement”.  Not one single one of these quotes are endorsements for your failed book.


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