Catchphrase Executioner: The Worst Slang Terms of 2011

Scrutinizing culture.
Dec. 23 2011 3:02 PM

Catchphrase Executioner

Bad sex jargon, horrible “occupy” jokes, and other terrible things we said this year.

111223_SPEC_occupy
Stop misusing occupy

It’s that time again. Time to review the year’s crop of stupid and annoying catchphrases. Yes, I’ll single out a few ingenious terms that have earned their place in our vernacular. But my aim here is to point out the ones that make you wince when you hear them and identify the user as a loser.

In honor of the Literary Review’s annual “Bad Sex Writing Prize,” which spotlights embarrassing new ways our writers of “literary fiction” have crafted to make us ashamed of our bodily existence, we’ll begin with “Bad Sex Catchphrases.”

None more loathsome and repellant than junk.

Who exactly first thought this could be a super-cool way of referring to genitalia? Come on, identify yourself. No, it wasn’t that guy who told the TSA agent at the San Diego airport, “Don’t touch my junk,” although he certainly gave the term nationwide exposure. It had been around before, but suddenly it blew up. For a while I thought it might have come from the “Don’t tase me, bro” guyit sounds like his kind of patois. Or maybe it was a hedge-fund guy warning a client about some worthless paper: “Don’t touch my junk (bonds).” Wow, a harmonic convergence between bad sex and the bad economy. But I still kind of like “Don’t tase me, bro” as a catchphrase—has anyone articulated the political philosophy of the Jeffersonian faction of the Founding Fathers more eloquently?

Seriously, though, if you were combing the hundreds of thousands of nouns in the language for a more repulsive, anti-sexual way of describing sex organs—or “nature’s blessings,” as I like to call them (kidding!)—I don’t think you could come up with anything worse.

I’m not saying a description of private parts should necessarily be tender, romantic, and lyrical. And one needn’t get all rom-com and reverential, or all New Agey (remember yoni and lingam?). But junk is pathetic. Why not garbage? How about, “Don’t touch my refuse”? Could the rise of the term be one of the first inarguable indications that overdosing on junk-sex Internet porn has damaged the brains of so many men that they’ve come to think everything sexual is, well, junky.

That may be part of the answer. I think the rest of the answer is that junk is a product of dimwit fratboy culture, the super-suave types who still wear their baseball caps on backward and have bequeathed us with the other Bad Sex Catchphrase perennial: “Bros before hos.”

What about squicky? Kind of new on the scene, but beginning to show up with some frequency as a kind of melding of squeal and icky, usually applied to things of an unappealing sexual nature. The word you use when something is so icky it makes women (mainly) want to squeal. I think it’s got a perky appeal, though, so maybe we should reserve judgment and see if it continues to catch on.

The other Bad Sex catchphrase that often strikes me, in some contexts, as funny is O-face. (I don’t need to explicate it, do I?) The downside is that self-consciousness isn’t necessarily a great thing when it comes to sex, or so I’m told.

But just so we don't count the year a total loss, sex-phrase-wise, there is one new term I encountered on the website The Hairpin that sounds super-intriguing: napgasm. Apparently, it’s a thing. (That’s another of my fave catchphrases, by the way. It’s a thing is a thing.)

And here’s one that is not really sexual, but in some ways don’t you think going viral’s time is up? Clapped-out, as the Brits say. The shadow of the STD will always hang over it.

You know what gives going viral a bad name: occupy “jokes” which alas have gone viral. By that, I mean not the Occupy Wall Street movement itself, but the sudden widespread use of the verb occupy to make squicky quips.

Like this one guy on Facebook (I guess he must be a “friend,” although he’ll probably defriend me now—sorry, bro) who occupies any time not devoted to political musings by posting notes about his every movement around the house: “I’m going to occupy the fridge now and get some beer”; “Time to occupy the La-Z-Boy.” Who’d have thought of occupying occupy this way? That’s how I keep up with trends, friends. (By the way, trending; your time has come: Trending has trended (“trent”?) into a cliché.)

Anyway, enough with the occupy jokes, please. And speaking of jokes, what about all those blog commenters who still think it’s original to indicate that they find something funny by saying they “almost spit the coffee on my keyboard.” Do they think anyone will find this response flattering? You made an idiot laugh, congratulations!

Here are some more:

Crowdsourcing: Hasn’t it occurred to anyone—especially the new media genius types who abuse the concept—that the archetypal crowd is a lynch mob? A Nuremberg rally? And, really, no matter how many studies you cite, you’re not going to convince me you get smarter by asking a lot of ignorant people questions. Did Einstein “crowdsource” the Special Theory of Relativity? Or was that just the General Theory?

I’m OCDing: As in, “I’m OCDing over these heavy metal anthems.” Medicalizing your trivial preoccupations (there’s an “occupy” joke in there) doesn’t give them gravitas.

Gravitas: OK, last mention allowed was the one above (maybe one more). Isn’t it obvious that someone who’s using gravitas is mainly trying to confer it upon himself by implying he has the gravitas to recognize and bestow gravitas? It’s like the people who applaud bad plays at prestigious theaters: They’re not applauding the plays, they’re applauding themselves for being there.

Adding hashtags to trite observations to make them seem witty: This rarely works. I do recall one that did. The writer Lizzie Skurnick on Facebook, a year or so ago, something like this: “Cats skittering around the walls of the room #veryblackswan.” I don’t know why I laugh out loud every time I see this. Maybe you have to have had cats. Or to have seen Black Swan—in a certain light. Meanwhile, just about everyone else who attempts witty hashtag humor fails: “I’m hungry #goingtooccupythefridge.” Meh.

Which brings me to meh: I still like this! I think it’s rare to find something so new and expressive in the language. Maybe people only recently began to realize what a big emotion “meh” is. The Times Magazine's "Meh List" makes me feel I'm late to the party (another catchphrase I kind of like, since it describes a feeling I often have). Maybe people have only recently begun to feel “meh” a lot. Or give that “meh” feeling a name. But I think meh is the emotion of the new century. Welcome to the Meh Era, where nothing impresses us any more, nothing even has the potential to impress us. We’re all too cool for school. (Old catchphrase, still worth dragging out once in a while.)

Speaking of emotions, let’s talk about the worst new emoticon (or maybe it’s the best, I can’t decide). I have only used an emoticon once in my life (long story), but I’ve been an observer of their evolution, and I only recently saw this: (^_^)

Awesome, right? It can mean just about anything, from benign to sinister.

Speaking of which, has awesome become the new cool in the sense that it is an indestructible, multitasking word, able to sustain layer upon layer of irony and always work on at least one level #usuallymore. It can mean awesome, in the original, nonironic sense; it can mean meh; and it can express just about any nuance of emotion (or lack thereof) in between. Or several at the same time. Or in succession. I think awesome is, in its resiliency and all-purposeness, truly awesome.

Repurposing: The Anglophile/Brit-twit word of the moment. Just as it seems, despite my efforts, we will never be able to stamp out “spot on” and those who think the use of it gives them an Atlanticist sophistication, we’ve now got another Britishism already past its sell-by date. Anyone?

Anyone?: As in, ”Did anyone get the sell-by joke? Using a Britishism to mock a Britishism?” Anyone is a reflexive bit of self-mockery sometimes used after failed or lackluster attempts at comedy. It’s still funny to me, one of the few modern catchphrases that suggests humility, however much that humility is deserved.

Kudos: This one is ancient and it used to drive me crazy because people thought it was a plural rather than a Greek singular word. Today, people tend to use it properly—but it’s still a crap word of the sort used by people who write letters to In Style (“Kudos for a really intimate look at Justin Bieber”) and think the foreign term will give them gravitas.

Value-added: It’s practically always value-diminished when anything is described as a “value-added.”

Learnings: A new buzzword for takeaway, I’m told. Not a value-added.

Publicness: The Jeff Jarvisism of the moment. According to the self-promoting “Internet intellectual,” everyone should tweet whatever’s happening to their private parts. Because privacy is an antiquated concept. Or something. Sadly Jeff may have reached his sell-by date. Even Jeff’s fellow buck-raking Internet guru/conference-cash savants have not started using the term, perhaps embarrassed by Jeff’s tragic ode to Germany or Evgeny Morozov’s hilarious dissection of his work. Publicness failed to go viral, merely bacterial.

That guy: At first it was kind of awesome being in on the (slightly) mysterious and withheld explicitness of “that guy.” As in, “You don’t want to be that guy,” meaning “that dork.” The phrase allowed you to think, “Oh, I know who they mean by ‘that guy.’ ” But by now if you think the use of “that guy” is cool, you ARE that guy. “That guy” has become “that phrase,” if you know what I mean.

Is it worse to be “that guy” or a go-to guy? Go away, go-to guy!

And what about -friendly? Reader-friendly, SEO-friendly. They’ve taken the friendliness out of friendly. If “friending” didn’t kill friendship, all this XYZ-friendlyizing will.

Fail: Sometimes #FAIL. I tried to put a stop to epic fail two years ago but clearly, um, failed. Why do people take such satisfaction in the failure of others? Duh. Fail is truly the signature—if not the sign-off—of the zeitgeist, the domain name of contemporary human nature.

But I don’t want to leave this on a down note. So I’ll say farewell for now with my favorite new emoticon, which grows more haunting and enigmatic the more you look at it. Think of the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg* in Gatsby: (^_^)

It’s the face of the future staring right at us. And saying, “Meh.”

Correction, Dec. 23, 2011: This column originally misspelled the name Eckleburg. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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