Adding to the growing commentary on the steady decline of the English language as we once knew it, The Washington Post Magazine’s Gene Weingarten has written one of the cleverest pieces to date.
Please read “Goodbye, Cruel Words” for yourself because I will most certainly fail to do it justice here. Readers, this figurative obituary of the language is right up our alley with real-life examples of ridiculous errors in grammar, usage and syntax committed by some of the most highly regarded newspapers.
Please note: the piece calls attention to a once-trendy, now overused phrase to which I ashamedly plead “Guilty.”
I probably picked it up 10 years ago in my corporate days; my dealings with corporate clients since that time have etched it ever more deeply into my lexicon. And, truthfully, I’ve always liked it.
As Weingarten introduces it, “[no] development contributed more dramatically to the death of the language than the sudden and startling ubiquity of the vomitous verbal construction ‘reach out to’ as a synonym for ‘call on the phone,’ or ‘attempt to contact.’” He calls it “a jargony phrase bloated with bogus compassion – once the province only of 12-step programs and sensitivity training seminars…”
I wonder if “reach out” started with AT&T’s tear-inducing television commercials of the 1980s, “Reach out and touch someone.” As Weingarten points out, reaching out was a gesture of sensitivity or support. It probably derived from “outreach.”
Looking back on the countless meetings I’ve attended in the last 25 years, I can almost trace the phrase’s road to ubiquity, including a U-turn in its meaning. Reaching out has gone from a gesture of good will to one of asking a favor or, in the extreme, groveling.
Come to think of it, I have “reached out” quite a bit over the years.
“We need to get Sen. Smith on board with this.” “I’ll reach out to him.”
“I’ll reach out to XYZ Corp. for a $50,000 sponsorship.”
“I’ll reach out to Mary to see if she’ll be the closing speaker for the conference.”
Guilty as charged. Not because I’ve spent my career calling people to ask them for things, but because I’ve done so using a vomitous verbal construction.