The Power Of “THE”

As a matter of the English language, “the” is a definite article. Dictionary.com explains that “the” is “used, especially before a noun, with a specifying or particularizing effect, as opposed to the indefinite or generalizing force of the indefinite article a or an.”

Of course, any graduate or fan of The Ohio State University knows that “THE” is used with “a specifying or particularizing effect.” And, as of this week, so does the rest of the world–because this week the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registered “THE” as a trademark of the Ohio State University when that word is used on branded products associated with and sold through athletics and collegiate channels. That recognition reflects the efforts and emphasis of the many Ohio State athletes who have identified their alma mater as “THE Ohio State University” on sports broadcasts.

I think it is great that Ohio State has successfully registered “THE” as a trademark for THE University, because it bugs the crap out of other schools–like TTUN. Let those other schools stumble along with their indefinite articles or prepositions! Ohio State may not win the national championship, or even the Big Ten, every year, but we’ll always be “THE.”

New Words For A New Year

The other day I was talking to a colleague when I reminded her of something. In response, she said something like: “Sorry, if I once knew that I’ve offloaded it.” When I asked about that use of “offload,” she explained that the word was used in that sense in one of her frequent discussions with people who work in the marketing area, and she liked it and decided to incorporate it into her daily vocabulary.

I think using “offloaded” as a synonym for “forgotten” is a great language development, particularly for those of us who are getting up there in years. “I offloaded that” sounds a lot better than “I forgot.” It’s also consistent with Sherlock Holmes’ notion that the brain has only so much storage capacity, and it shouldn’t be cluttered with non-essential information.

According to my friend, another new language development in the marketing world is using “double-click” rather than “drill down” or “take a deep dive.” If an agenda item is introduced at a meeting and you are interested in getting more information from the presenter, you can say “I’d like to double-click on that point” and then ask a probing question. I like this word substitute, too, because “drill down” always makes me think of painful cavity filling at the dentist’s office.

These new uses of “offload” and “double-click” show that the English language remains a living, breathing, ever-changing thing. New words and uses are always coming into vogue. The venerable Merriam-Webster dictionary added a number of new words in 2021, and you can find other collections of new words that haven’t quite reached official dictionary status at various places on the internet, like this one. Some of the new words are pretty good. Here are some that I particularly like:

Whataboutism — when a person responds to an accusation of wrongdoing by claiming that someone else did something much worse

Digital nomad — a person who works entirely over the internet while traveling

FTW — the acronym for “for the win,” used to acknowledge that someone has just made a particularly compelling or funny conversation-ending comment about a topic or meme

Awe walk — to take a walk outside and make a particular effort to notice things around you

Doomscrolling — intentionally reading news that you expect to be bad (such as about COVID cases) on news websites or social media

I like these new words. Now, if only I can avoid offloading them!

“Cleansing” Versus “Cleaning”

Today I went to wash my hands in the restroom and noticed one of those dispensers of overly scented hand soap. In big bold letters, the dispenser touted the soap as “Deep Cleansing” — which made my teeth grind a bit.

IMG_1880What’s with the trend to replace “clean” with “cleanse”? Virtually any product that approximates the effect of soap and water on human beings now uses “cleansing” rather than “cleaning.” So, you see phrases like “deep cleansing,” or “gentle cleansing.” I’ve even seen an ad in which the actor says she likes “feeling cleansed” rather than “feeling clean.”

Why is this so? “Clean” is a perfectly good word that has been used for centuries. “Deep cleaning” certainly sounds more thorough than “deep cleansing.” So why isn’t it used?

I’m guessing that there are two reasons. First, no doubt advertisers and marketing managers have done studies that show that people will pay more if a product promises “cleansing” rather than “cleaning.” Maybe it sounds more highbrow. Second, “cleansing” has a softer sense to it. “Cleansing” sounds like something that might happen during a gentle spring rain, whereas “cleaning” conjures notions of attacking a dirty item with a stiff wire brush and Mr. Clean. (Of course, “ethnic cleansing” runs counter to this linguistic theory.)

It’s all part of the reason why I like to buy the generic versions of household products. They tend not to be infused with ridiculous scents, they tend not to be packaged in ludicous designs, and if they’re hand soap or hand cleaner, they use those simple, time-honored words. It helps that they’re cheaper, too.

Knowing When To Get To The (Exclamation) Point

If, like me, you were schooled in the proper use of the written word by a stern, ruler-wielding English teacher who applied her red editing pen with liberal glee, it’s been a tough few years.

The advent of email and texting and Twitter have stretched the old rules for written communications past the breaking point.  If my old teachers read some of what passes for writing on those new media, they would loosen their hair buns, put their heads down on their well-worn copies of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, and weep bitter tears.

Consider the exclamation point.  We were taught that the exclamation point was a form of punctuation to be used rarely, if at all.  It might, potentially, be useful to highlight an expression of surprise or a forceful statement, but mostly it was dismissed as a crutch for a poor writer who couldn’t drum up excitement with the story itself.  When I got to journalism school, our acerbic, chain-smoking faculty advisor instructed that exclamation points were never used in a news story.

But now, exclamation points are ridiculously common.  If you look at your recently received texts or emails, you’ll likely see dozens of exclamation points — sometimes even double or triple exclamation points (as well as emoticons, made-up-on-the-spot abbreviations, and other recent linguistic developments).  In fact, at times not using an exclamation point can be interpreted as rude or sarcastic.  You can’t just say “Thanks.”  It has to be “Thanks!” or maybe even “Thanks!!” — or you’re viewed as a surly jerk who isn’t sufficiently appreciative.

For a guy in his 50s, the trick is to avoid sounding like an over-excited teenager (“OMG!!!!”) while at the same time not inadvertently giving offense because you adhere to outdated strictures that used to govern the King’s English.  Where’s the rulebook?  For now, I’ll loosen my use of the exclamation point — but I’m drawing the line at emoticons or substituting numbers or single letters for words!