From snowflake to virtue signalling — idioms, expressions and memes that should be trashed at the end of 2018


Language is stretchy.

Words are coined, reinvented, sent to pasture.

Made popular by Donald Trump, “fake news” is on Rosie DiManno’s list of terms that need to be thrown on the zeitgeist trash heap.
Made popular by Donald Trump, “fake news” is on Rosie DiManno’s list of terms that need to be thrown on the zeitgeist trash heap.  (Evan Vucci / The Associated Press)

It’s just about impossible, for example, to use “gay” now in any context other than referencing homosexuality. So long “lighthearted and carefree.” (GLAAD lists “homosexual” as an offensive term in their media reference guide.)

Words are my business but I have a bitch of a time keeping up with evolving semantics. (Somebody will complain about b—-.) And Lord knows the Star responds with overweening accommodation to whinges about purportedly inappropriate lexicon.

I once had an editor order me to take “niggardly’’ — definition: miserly — out of a sentence because it was two-thirds evocative of an objectionable term, even though there’s no etymological connection. My argument that readers aren’t that stupid fell on deaf ears.

A word that sticks in my craw, for its ubiquity over the past year, is “racialized.” The term has been around, according to Collins Dictionary, for about 150 years. I don’t recall any wide usage, especially in newspapers, until recently. Racialize is a transitive verb, not an adjective. The adjective is racial: relating to race. Racialized is described by Oxford as “the way in which language is used to colonize, racialize and commodify the other; to categorize or divide according to race.” But we’re all the time writing phrases such as “racialized community” or “racialized policing” as a kind of virtue signalling shorthand.

Actually, “virtue signalling” has just about had its day, don’t you think? It’s usually intended pejoratively, snidely. As in tiresomely demonstrating one’s good character or moral correctness. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau does it a lot. It’s become his earnest leitmotif. Right wingers are also overly fond of “snowflake,” meaning either over-emotional and easily offended or having an inflated sense of uniqueness. Snowflake should melt away already. (Pearl-clutching still has legs.)

What I’d like to see rubbished: Reach out.

As in, I am reaching out to you blah-blah-blah. Reaching out for comment, reaching out for consideration, reaching out to address your late bill payment. The phrase implies a kind of disingenuous courtesy coupled with an almost tactile engagement across cyberspace. Business environment buzz-slang that has invaded media spun communications and fuzzy-wuzzy professional blather. Sorry, I can’t be reached.

Oh, sorry not sorry. Popularized by Demi Lovato in the eponymous hit song aimed at her “haters.” You’re sorry because you’re not sorry, sarcastic-like. Lack of regret or repentance. Adopted, defiantly (and pre-emptively), by former premier Kathleen Wynne in her campaign ads this past year, she even opened her leadership debates with it. Sorry not sorry that the Liberals were chopped down to seven seats and lost official party status.

Language say-so gurus like to announce their words-of-the-year at this time of the year, Oxford picking “toxic” and opting for “misinformation.” Contrarian and word-fidget that I am, I’d rather go the other way and suggest lexicology — idioms, expressions, memes — that should be tossed on the zeitgeist trash heap.

Woke: Derived from African-American vernacular, mainstreamed via Black Lives Matter, rendered trite and detached from its meaning of social awareness. When sports radio talking heads go all woke this and woke that to virtue signal their hipness, you know the word has fallen victim to homogenized appropriation. Kind of like when teenagers fled from Facebook because their parents discovered it. So 15 minutes ago.

Fifteen minutes ago: Time-lapsed cliché. Return to the San Fernando Valley-Girl-Speak whence it came.

Fake news: Stunning how popular the new four letter F-word — FAKE! — has become, courtesy of the Donald Trump White House, although nobody is guiltier of spinning alternate facts than the president himself. It should be carved on his tombstone and not a moment too soon. Meanwhile, can he spell I-M-P-E-A-C-H-E-D? And while we’re on the subject of chronic mendacity, may we please put to bed the obsessive-compulsive fact-checking tabulation of all Trump’s untruths? With an exception for Star Washington correspondent Daniel Dale, who pretty much invented the oeuvre and so owns the copyright.

I can’t even: Bother to finish this sentence.

Said no one ever: Said everyone, too often, under the illusion they’re being clever, contrapositive-like.

Keep calm and …: More written — on trashy kitsch — than spoken. Originally a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 to prepare the public for the Second World War. Contrary to common belief, Winston Churchill did not say it. Neither should you.

That’s offensive: Ah shuddup.

White privilege: I am Mediterranean off-white and have zero privileges unearned, as does every Caucasian I’ve ever met, except in apartheid South Africa that was. Way to slag 1.3 billion “white” people around the world, though.

Thrown under the bus: The origins of this expression are a mystery. But in previous iterations, did anybody ever say thrown under the stagecoach or thrown under the chariot? The idiomatic implication is that someone has been betrayed or sacrificed. Beep-beep. Bleep-bleep.

Could care less: Means the opposite of what you’re intending to say. But people who say it ad nauseam couldn’t care less.

With all due respect: Actually signifies that the speaker has no respect at all for the person being spoken to. Who you kidding?

GOAT: Greatest Of All Time, applied most notably to Roger Federer until it bled out into the amorphous beyond. Unless referring to Leafs’ fourth-liner Frederik Gauthier — Goat is his nickname, natch — butt it into the hall of cliché shame.

Social justice warriors: No you’re not. Get a real job.

Irregardless: Repeat after me — NO SUCH WORD.

Words fail me. Nah, never.

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno


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