Friday, January 18, 2013

"What's the Bad Word?"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I know cliches like the back of my hand and I’ve always thought that people should avoid them like the plague.

That’s why I am happy, at this point in time, to know that, going forward, two distinguished word gurus are thinking outside the box and, at the end of the day, fighting the good fight to keep the English language free from hackneyed phrases that I can’t wrap my head around because, after all, it is what it is.

I refer to Tom Pink and John Shibley, who work at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and have just come out with their annual Banished Words List.

Pink, director of the public relations department, and Shibley, PR writer and photographer, describe themselves as “co-conspirators” of the list, which this year includes such annoying words and phrases as “fiscal cliff,” “kick the can down the road,” “bucket list,” “double down,” “trending” and “YOLO,” which stands for “you only live once.”

Since Pink and Shibley are trending, I decided to double down and -- spoiler alert (which also made the list) -- call them because, of course, YOLO.

“I’d like to have some talking points with you guys,” I said.

“You mean you want to discuss the Banished Words List?” asked Shibley, adding that “talking points” made the list in 2006.

“That’s affirmative,” I replied. “I have a few suggestions that, at the end of the day, should go on the list.”

“Like the phrase ‘at the end of the day’?” asked Pink, who said it was banished in 1999 but that “people keep using it.”

“That’s just one of them,” I said.

“We always welcome new entries,” said Shibley, noting that people can go to the Banished Words website,, and make their own suggestions.

“I’d like to nominate ‘going forward’ and its equally evil twin, ‘moving forward,’ which have the language going backward,” I said.

“They made it in 2001,” Pink informed me.

“I can’t wrap my head around it,” I said.

“If you tried,” Shibley said, “you’d get a headache.”

“Then I wouldn’t be able to think outside the box,” I said.

“It’s better than thinking inside the box,” Shibley pointed out. “You might suffocate. I’d poke holes in the box. In fact, Tom and I poke holes in everything we read or hear. Our language needs some fresh air.”

“We all have our linguistic annoyances,” Pink said. “One of mine is ‘preplanning.’ It’s like planning to plan. Or ‘preregistration.’ If you have to register before an event, when do you preregister -- before the event is even planned?”

“Then you’d have to preplan,” I said. “How about recipes that tell you to ‘preheat’ the oven before cooking dinner?”

“As opposed to turning it on afterward?” Pink asked.

“Exactly,” I said. “Of course, if your dinner is on sale at the supermarket, you’d be getting a good price point.”

“Good point,” said Pink.

“It is what it is,” I noted.

“That one got on in 2008,” said Pink, who called the Banished Words List an “unpopularity contest,” adding: “We try to have fun with it.”

Said Shibley, “We’re looking for good, witty nominations. Even if there’s a word or phrase that has already made the list, you can nominate it again so it will get back on. We want input, which made the list, that is ongoing, which also made it.”

“At this point in time,” Pink said.

“That one was on the original list in 1976,” said Shibley, who added that he and Pink appreciated my interest in joining the fight to rid the English language of the annoying words and phrases that have so negatively impacted (which made the list) our talking points.

“At the end of the day, I’m happy to help,” I said. “Going forward.”
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima

Friday, January 11, 2013

"Joking Is in My Blood"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

As a frequent blood donor and a proud member of the Gallon Club, which has nothing to do with my weekend beer consumption, I have often wondered if the people who get my blood suffer from terrible side effects like telling stupid jokes and growing a mustache. And if, especially where facial hair is concerned, any of them have been women.

I gained some insight when I found out that the blood I donated recently had gone to New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Weill Cornell Medical Center.

The journey began during a blood drive at work, where a phlebotomist named Susan looked over my paperwork and asked what type of blood I have.

“Since I’m a newspaper columnist,” I told her, “I should have typo blood.”

“Are you positive?” she said.

“Actually, I am,” I replied. “A-positive, though I like to call it A-plus because it makes up for the fact that I never got one in school.”

Susan took my temperature and my blood pressure.

“Do I have a pulse?” I asked.

“Yes,” she responded. “You are, technically, still alive.”

“That means,” said George, another phlebotomist, “you are a good candidate to give blood. Sometimes, being alive is all we require.”

“Do you take any medication?” Susan inquired.

“I have a prescription for cholesterol medicine because my numbers used to rival the gross national product of Finland,” I said. “And I take baby aspirin because I am, of course, a big baby.”

“I can see that,” said Susan, who drew blood from my middle finger (it was nothing personal against her) and performed a test indicating that my cholesterol level was normal, if such a word could be used to describe me.

Then it was time to roll up my sleeves.

“Which arm do you prefer?” asked a phlebotomist named Chris.

“Either is fine,” I said. “It’s a good thing I’m not an octopus or this could get really confusing.”

“You have good veins,” said Chris, who chose my right arm.

“My donations are in vein, but I hope they’re not in vain,” I noted as I proceeded to pump out a bag full of blood in a personal best 5 minutes 37 seconds.

“That’s a good time,” said Chris.

“That’s because I had a good time,” I replied, thanking Chris, George and Susan and heading home with the satisfaction of knowing I would be helping someone who needed blood.

I didn’t know who he or she might be until I received an email saying that my donation had gone to New York-Presbyterian.

“Thank you for giving blood,” Kathleen Crowley, manager of transfusion medicine and cellular therapy at Weill Cornell, said when I called to find out the identity of the poor recipient. “I can’t say who got yours, but I can say that you met all the requirements of being a donor.”

“We have very high standards and never lower them,” said Dr. Cheryl Goss, assistant director of transfusion medicine and cellular therapy. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t take you.”

“Was my blood delivered in an armored car or did it get a police escort?” I wondered.

“Neither,” Crowley said. “It was brought here in a delivery truck. You’re important but not that important.”

“Will the person who got my blood start telling stupid jokes and grow a mustache?” I asked.

“Contrary to popular belief,” Crowley said, “your characteristics are not imposed on the person who gets your blood. If you like bananas, it doesn’t mean that the recipient will start eating them.”

“Unless the recipient is a chimpanzee,” I said. “Then it would be a chimp off the old block.”

“We haven’t received a letter saying that a patient had an adverse reaction to your blood,” Dr. Goss assured me.

“Your donation is much appreciated,” Crowley said. “And the world is safe from one more practical joker.”
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima