Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An issue I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy--and I mean that from the bottom of my heart

Cliches are islands of excrement clogging the stream of consciousness. They are symptoms of lazy thought, thoughtless thought. Here are three of my least favorite contemporary American examples.

Issue. I have an issue with this usage. Sometime around the millennium, Americans ceased to have problems. No, we didn't stumble into some trouble-free post-scarcity paradise where everything and everybody's free, weed's legal, and the word 'bush' is used only to describe landscapes and pubes. No, not even close. Instead, the usage of the word 'issue' to mean 'problem' apparently migrated from the 'helping professions' (a euphemism that will cheesegrate the eardrums of anyone who's read Robert Stone's great short story "Helping") into the everyday discourse of the corporate world. This sort of thing is far from uncommon; discourse-to-discourse migration is one way languages grow and change, and it's not something that ordinarily annoys me. With this particular usage, however, something a bit more cynical and devious than typical linguistic mutation is going on. A problem demands a solution; an issue, though, is something to be 'worked through' (during many long years of therapy, for example), dissolving the very concept of 'solution' in a cloudy solution of  indefinite deferral. The usage is thus of great utility to the corporate world. In the latter part of the last decade, the big banks encountered serious 'issues' with credit default swaps, but since the collapse of the international economy did not constitute a 'problem,' no one really expected them to provide a solution. Having an 'issue' is a great way to avoid accountability and responsibility. It's a big problem.

I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Of course you would. That's what worst enemies are for.

I really wish people would stop saying this. It's never true. (And if you think it is, then the person you consider your 'worst enemy' probably isn't.)

All nonmedical phrases containing the word 'heart.' The late Christopher Hitchens, in one of his finer drink-sodden moments, performed the thought experiment of replacing the word 'heart' with 'dick' in all the sentimental cliches that cluster like so many bloodclots around the circulatory organ. Consider: It's wonderful to be here in the dickland of America. Let's put our hands over our dicks and recite the pledge of allegiance. (Oddly enough, this probably was how oaths were taken in uber-patriarchal Old Testament times, a custom that leaves a trace in modern English in the similarity between the words 'testify' and 'testicle.') He wasn't the greatest boxer, but the kid had a lotta dick. I'm speaking straight from the dick. His speech was stirring and clearly dickfelt. We need to have a dick-to-dick conversation about that.

Let's declare a moratorium on all three of these cliches. And I mean that from the bottom of my dick.

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