You hear them repeatedly: words and phrases suddenly pitch-forked into our political, media and cultural conversation that become fashionable — and are done to death. They’re as grating as chalk slowly scraping on blackboard . Here’s a list of the top 12 screamingly annoying phrases:

1. Grand Bargain. “Grand” is a word meaning great, magnificent and big that hardly anyone under 80-years-old uses in every day conversation. In the 1933 musical “42nd” Street Ruby Keeler says, “Jim, they didn’t tell me you were here. It was grand of you to come.” Commercials during radio shows from the 1930s and 1940s often hyped ” a grand dessert.” You see headlines such as: Toward Obama’s ‘grand bargain’..Obama, Senators Talk ‘Grand Bargain’ Over Dinner…Party Intransigence Dims Hope for ‘Grand Bargain’. There are a slew of You Tubes under the subject, too.

Yes, we have Grand Pianos, grand openings, and the Grand Canyon — and perhaps the “Grand Bargain” is indeed named after that since the Grand Canyon’s sides are so far apart.

2. False equivalence. When political partisans or hyper-ideologists say ” false equivalence” it usually means …equivalence. 21st century American partisan politics is like sports where you always insist the other side is wrong and look the other way or make excuses if your own sports team is out of line. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has offered an example of false equivalence during the American civil war. But, more often than not, “false equivalency” is a partisan’s political bludgeon to deflect the responsibility of the writer’s own preferred political party.

The National Journal’s Ron Fournier writes: “In the fast-expanding and narrow-minded world of partisan commentators, there’s a term that describes the act of considering both sides of a policy debate. It’s hurled at anybody with the temerity to hold all parties accountable, even if not always equally so. ‘False equivalency.’ You’d think it was my middle name. It’s a slur leveled at politically agnostic journalists who attempt to cut through the clutter of spin, lies, and process, inflicting discomfort across the spectrum — from Bernie Sanders to Rush Limbaugh.”
3. “Defining moment.” This is used profusely by pundits who assume THEY can define a person’s entire life by something that has just happened. Do political pundits who proclaim something a “defining moment” have a crystal ball? The only political analyst with a crystal ball that truly seems to work is the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato –and he doesn’t hurl the phrase “defining moment” around.

4. “Tried to change the subject…” Used when a politician dares to try to talk about something other than what a competing politician, political pundit, or journalist considers the “real” story of the day. It ignores the fact that politicos may prioritize things differently or be multi-tasking. He who says “tried to change the subject” often assumes he alone can determine “the subject.”

5. “He just doesn’t get it…” That often means “he just doesn’t agree with me.”

6. “Singing Kumbaya…”
Yours truly had to sing this song in a low reverential tone in the 1960s, led by counselors who seemed to idolize folk singer Pete Seeger’s version of it. Wikipedia notes that Kumbaya is a spiritual song from the 1930s, but ” became a standard campfire song in Scouting and summer camps, and enjoyed broader popularity during the folk revival of the 1960s sung by famous singers. The song was originally associated with human and spiritual unity, closeness and compassion, and it still is, but more recently it is also cited or alluded to in satirical or cynical ways which suggest false moralizing, hypocrisy, or naively optimistic views of the world and human nature..”

Last month in San Diego, a city council member said it was “time to sing Kumbaya” when a tiff was settled. An Arizona Republic column: “But don’t look for any kumbaya anytime soon.” Kumbaya is overused as a noun and as an adjective, today conjuring up images of people with their arms around each others’ shoulders, vapidly smiling as they sing a song suggesting their peace and love can instantly change the world. Use of the phrase makes you long for the Sound of Silence.

7. “A Marine and his buddies…”
How do we know it’s that Marine’s “buddy?” Can’t a Marine feel neutral about or hate a fellow Marine? Are military women with other military women with their “buddies,” too? There is a “buddy search” website to locate active Marines.

8. “The Mushy Middle.” The middle is only called “mushy” when it doesn’t support a partisan hack or ideologist’s position.

9. “DE-fense and OFF-fense.” How did this get started in sports? So does this mean we have a federal Department of DE-fense? Please EX-plain.

10. “It doesn’t pass the smell test”:
Used incessantly by talking heads about whether something is authentic or not. Using the trite phrase smells.

11. “The mainstream media…” when said by sneering bloggers or cable talking heads. Bloggers blast the mainstream media all the time and trumpet themselves as belonging to a new age of journalism, but if you removed mainstream media reporting that bloggers copy, paste and comment on but don’t pay anything to use, most blogs (which are mostly cyberspace op-ed pages) would offer little.

12. “Thank you for having me”: It sounds like something you’d say to your mother on Mother’s Day. Used ad nauseum by talking head guests on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News.

FOOTNOTE: I’ve looked at some of these phrases before on The Moderate Voice and in my weekly Cagle Cartoons column. This is the most complete list.

JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief
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