The catchphrase of the decade.

The catchphrase of the decade.

The catchphrase of the decade.

Scrutinizing culture.
Dec. 29 2009 7:27 PM

The Catchphrase of the Decade

And those that have had their 15 minutes of fame.

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So dismiss them with the Warholian sneer. And for those whose sucking up failed, or who weren't in the right place to suck up, there was even more unexamined anger. Cue the ritual outraged denunciation of "reality show culture": Gee, those people seeking their 15 minutes are so superficial!

Before unveiling this year's list, let's review some of the phrases I consigned to catchphrase hell last time I wrote a column on the subject—and some of the ones I thought worth preserving:

Among those I wanted thrown off the island and under the bus: it is what it is (in the "tough-luck" sense),the optics, drill down, under the bus, not so much, and the take-away. Oh, yes, and dude—at least when it's a Big Lebowski reference.

Ones I thought still worked: make it work, it's all good, it is what it is (in the existential/Buddhist sense). And oh, yes, throw up a little in my mouth—I still like that.

One thing I've noticed (and I'm sure you have, too) is that many new catchphrases these days first take root among blog commenters. But there's a whole set of phrases from the blog-commenter community that have not aged well—just sayin', well played, what he said, epic fail, crickets—and are getting a little long in the tooth from overuse. Just sayin'.

I was ready to add what planet are you from? to the list of overused blog commenter catchphrases, but then I saw a variation that makes me laugh: What color is the sky on your planet?

And what about stay classy, an ironic comment usually made about another commenter's abusive comment? In my last examination of catchphrases, I was still unsure about stay classy, but I have to say that, despite its becoming an all-too-common staple of blog-comment culture, I like it, because it's one of the few catchphrases through which members of the commentariat display an awareness of their own tendency for abusiveness—display any irony at all—and it actually makes me laugh out loud when I read it in conjunction with the comments of an abuser.


One kind of blog-comment abuser I'm sick of is the infantile right-wing commenter types who think they're being incredibly clever by making fun of Obama's name.

Yes, there were nitwits on the left who gave us the offensive "Bushitler," etc. But enough with the Obama variations! The Nobama, the Obummer, the O-nada, the Ozero, the Obambi and the like. All indices of the commenter's subprime (C.P.!) playground-level intelligence. And then there's Obongo, not uncommon among right-wing blog commenters, which is pure, inexcusable, low-IQ racism. Stay classy.

And then there's the case of Monica Crowley, the former Nixon-in-exile assistant and apologist and now radio pundit/talking head (on the McLaughlin Group—yes! it still exists). Crowley, a smart, sharp-tongued personality I've sometimes found entertaining, even though (most of the time) I disagree with her, has perhaps ineradicably, irretrievably made herself look unserious by referring to Obama over and over and over again, scores of times in every radio broadcast, as "The Bama."

And guess what? It doesn't get any funnier with repetition. It's just a childish, content-less insult.

I'm curious, Monica: What makes you think "The Bama" clever as opposed to abusive in an infantile way? If you were ever to get into a position of power or influence and someone called you, rightly or wrongly, "Botox Crowley," would you find this to be brilliant political invective?

On to the C.P.s of the moment.

Not brand-new but never fails to annoy: How's that working out for you? What makes this phrase particularly annoying is its combination of smugness and self-congratulatory virtue. But is it a virtue to be smug in a hostile way? I mean, who asked you for an intervention? How's that working out for you, dude (C.P.)? Making lots of new friends with your incisive interrogatory critique of other people's life choices? Life choices that might involve a ...

Work-around: I see this all over now, I'd call it the most popular new all-purpose catchphrase. (Or maybe it's tied with game-changer.) On the one hand, it can be an ethical-sounding way of doing something dodgy or sketchy. A trick! The Cayman Islands used to be a good work-around for your insider-trading profits, say. An ethical-sounding way of bending the rules (akin to the somewhat more straightforward bending the curve, which can or cannot involve a dodgy or sketchy work-around).

Work-around's getting a good workout, but I feel work-around still has a half-life to it, especially when used in an ironic or self-deprecating air-quotes way. Tiger Woods thought he had a "work-around" in dealing with marital fidelity. How's that working out for you, bro? (Anyone who calls you bro should not automatically—or, indeed, ever—be considered to have brotherly intentions.) And work-around doesn't have to be dodgy; it can be appealingly offbeat, with the unofficial, improvised, no-standard, sometimes Machiavellian/sometimes pragmatic ethos it implies. The way some jazz gives old standards a work-around that is more than a dodge; it's an embellishment.

But don't call it outside the box anymore, please. By now, the injunction to "think outside the box" has become inside the box airline-magazine management-guru cliché. Please, some of you should get back into the box, please, and take your quirky Power Points with you. What about thinking outside outside the box? Not outside the box but not inside the box again, either. Transcend the box.

And is in the weeds the new outside the box? In the weeds, far afield, lost in too much detail or data. It hasn't quite coalesced, although everybody's somehow using it. Is it a golfing term? A Tiger Woods work-around? OK, Tiger Woods jokes are so over. From now on.

By the way: 2.0 and 3.0? Really abused by now. Let's put them back inside the box.

And how about spot on? I'd thought this Anglicism, this purported, imported faux sophistication—a sophistication as authentic as Madonna's British accent—would have died the death of the terminally pretentious. But along with the apparently ineradicable at the end of the day, it's still with us. It's the end of the day for you, spot on. Or as the lower orders used to say over there: Sod off, spot on.