Wednesday, October 15, 2008

LangAlert: Look Who's Looking


While the word "look" has been on the LangAlert langdar for several months now, its use has officially reached epidemic proportions--growing in, but spreading far beyond, the incubator of insipid political rhetoric. It's time to out "look."

You know the "look" I'm talking about--"look" not really as a verb, but as a hybrid word lying somewhere between an imperative and an interjection. Like this:

Interviewer/Debate Moderator: "Tell me, Senator [Obama, McCain], what would you do about the fact that much of our current economic crisis will be financed through issuing more Treasury bonds, for which the Chinese might appetite may be waning?"

Presidential Candidate: That's a great question, [Tom, Jim, Gwen], [insert attempt at levity, wait for laughter]. Look, we're in a crisis. There's no doubt about that. People are hurting. People are scared. But look, we've got the greatest workforce in the world. Are we in challenging times? Yes. Could things be better? Absolutely. But look, we've come together before. And at the end of the day, frankly, I believe we can do it again.

Used in this way, "look" is a kind of shorthand. What people are trying to communicate with this one word is this: "You just asked me a very serious and complicated question. I may or may not actually be able to answer it on the level it deserves. But we're on television here. This is the Super Bowl of soundbites. I'm going to give you the impression that I'm cutting through all the clutter, getting right to the point, not boring you with details. Very American. So allow me to use a verbal magnifying glass and give the appearance of down-to-earthiness."

The problem with "look," as with "frankly" and "at the end of the day," is that it's meaningless. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of excellent political rhetoric out there, even in this election. But look, at the end of the day, frankly, most of it is as worthless as a wink.

P.S. Count how many times the candidates use "look" in tonight's debate (but don't, for the sake of your health, make it a drinking game).

Previous LangAlerts:

False Contractions
Nerbs
Move Forward
Linguacopia
At the End of the Day
Whither "An"?
"Sort of" Is the New "Like"

1 comment:

Vegas Gopher said...

You raise another interesting point with "frankly." When a politician, specifically, uses that word, here's what it implies:

"I'm going to speak the truth here, as opposed to the millions of other times I've opened my mouth without spewing forth a shred of honesty or, well, frankness."

The problem is, "frankly" is usually the introduction to another stream of talking points, banalities, and invocations of Joe the Plummer.