This jaw-dropping bombshell will change your life

It’s breaking the internet and taking the world by storm

Jeffrey Denny

The German idiom schadenfreude, you probably know, means “taking pleasure in the misfortune of others.” Like when Democrats thrill over President Trump’s attacks on fellow Republicans. We need a similar term for another complex emotion that the Germans might best appreciate and name: Taking pleasure in being annoyed.

A bad translation produces freudedaransichzuärgern, which badly translated back to English becomes, “rejoice to get angry.” That sounds about right.

Don’t deny it. Irritation is exciting. We love to complain. Grousing is a conversation starter, a sport, a sweet addiction, a naughty sick pleasure, a shared chocolate fondue pot. Alice Longworth Roosevelt got it: “If you can’t say something good about someone,” she said, “sit right here by me.”

When deploring, though, stay away from Trump or politics — it gets too heated too fast. Stick with neutral stuff that bugs everyone. The weather, family, spouse, job, boss, neighbors … government … traffic and idiot drivers … your health problems … the home team, coach, or starting quarterback … “tech support” and any computer-related stuff. All fair game.

Jon Stewart says Jewish people make kvetching an art form. “Black people have blues music, while Jews complain,” he said. “We just never thought about putting it to music.”

Since you asked — thank you — here’s my biggest complaint, set to the harshest Charles Mingus improvisational, dissonant jazz:

I hate how the internet, or Millennials, or texting, or cluelessness, or generally lower standards, are making a mockery of our language.

Yes, I’m Lear, shaking fists at the storm. And having neither Nobel, Pulitzer nor MacArthur genius grant for literature, nor any published book, nor a doctorate in English, nor a complete command of my native and only language, nor complete certainty I’m using “nor” correctly, I have no standing to judge. As this piece richly demonstrates.

Plus, being a stickler only invites sticklers — language maven William Safire’s “Gotcha Gang” — to stickle your language. “The first punctuation mistake in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss, a British writer, appears in the dedication,” the great New Yorker critic Louis Menand pecksniffed, “where a nonrestrictive clause is not preceded by a comma. It is a wild ride downhill from there.”

These defensive caveats aside, if you agree, then sit right here by me: Too much quick and dirty “writing” today assumes we’re just as vapid as today’s “content providers,” which is what we used to call “writers.”

Whoever’s content-providing now seems to believe we don’t read; we just scan.

We don’t write; we thumb word and sentence fragments.

Grammar, syntax, punctuation, usage — these are old paternalistic rules of a dying privileged Anglo patriarchy.

UrbanDictionary.com has replaced the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary and not just because the print is large enough to be visible.

Hackneyed clichés and clueless malapropisms that our teachers or editors would swallow their tongues and turn purple over are the fair price to pay for posting fast and cheap.

List pieces — “Ten Ways To Write for the Internet” — win more clicks and ad eyeball$ than brilliant New Yorker essays.

Until I wore them down to the gums, I ground my molars over the noun-to-verbalization of “impact.” “Climate change doesn’t ‘impact’ the weather, you freaking ninnies!” I’d yell at the TV, “it AFFECTS the weather! It INTENSIFIES the weather! Or it HAS AN IMPACT ON the weather!”

Sadly, we lost the “impact” battle. I knew when I heard “impact” misused on NPR, among the last broadcast sticklers beyond cousin PBS.

But the war goes on. Here are Eight Words Or Phrases That Make Me Rejoice To Get Angry:

  1. Bombshell

I seethe at all clickbait hyperbole: “Outrage,” “jaw-dropping,” “life-changing,” “mind-bending,” “mouth-watering,” “life-hacking,” “firestorm” and “taking the world by storm.”

“Broke the internet” is another, as in “Kim Kardashian’s shiny butt broke the internet.” Last time I looked, it ain’t broke. Cracked, maybe. (The internet, I mean, not the tuchas. Grow up!)

2. Concrete steps

As in, “Congress took concrete steps to advance tax reform.”

The steps to the U.S. Capitol are not made of concrete. I believe they’re marble. And more durable than concrete or anything Congress says about tax breaks for the middle class. (Sorry — I didn’t mean to get political.)

3. Worked tirelessly

Please. Nobody works tirelessly. All humans get tired from working. After the first GOP/Trumpcare effort failed, Vice President Mike Pence said the president had worked “tirelessly over the last couple of weeks to get Congress to repeal and replace” Obamacare. Good news: The president may have recovered. TrumpGolfCount.com as of Oct. 17 has the president at 69 outings since inauguration, costing taxpayers $73.8 million.

(I won’t mention Trump’s pre-election rally jab at his predecessor, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to play golf.” Citing his claim is a digression, it’s political, and as I said, I’m staying away from politics here.)

The next are just common terms or phrases that bug me because, you know, I’m a stickler and I like being bugged:

4. Final destination

Like most frequent flyers, I ignore the takeoff spiel (unless the flight crew is wearing brass knuckles). But “final destination” always twitches my ears, since it’s a polite, churchy euphemism for the afterlife.

Who needs to think about eternal rapture or in my case, anguish, before the 300 metric ton metal tube we’re stuffed into inexplicably leaves the ground with 80,000 pounds of people and 50,000 gallons of explosive jet fuel under our seats?

The final destination being called a “terminal” also doesn’t help. Neither does the thought of perishing in a fiery hell while crammed between a earbud-wearing gum-snapper and a garlic-breathing gape-maw snoring like gravel in a Magic Bullet. In my final moments, I deserve better.

5. I’ll be ready in a minute

Anyone who says this is lying. Anyone ready to walk out the door in 60 seconds does not say “I’ll be ready in a minute.” It’s buying time. The one-minute warning in life is like the two-minute warning in football. It means, “Have a seat — we’ll be a while.”

6. Conflict-free engagement rings

First time hearing this, I thought, “how brilliant!” Not the diamonds; the concept. The engagement process is strewn with landmines, starting with who picks the ring. Plenty of conflict will ensue with marriage; why not make the first step easy?

Then I learned it means the diamond wasn’t tainted by war, abuse, poverty, and environmental degradation. Which is great. But “conflict-free engagement” still sounds like an oxymoron along with “like, literally” or “tech support.”

7. Spring water

We all know that most bargain bottled water we buy, drink, and put in the kids’ lunch boxes as a healthier alternative to tap water is tap water, right? Drawn from public water supplies for pennies and sold for dollars? That economy 24-pack at Costco, Target, Walmart, or Piggly Wiggly is pretty much the same as the water in our toilets, run through a Brita.

Maine’s Poland Springs, the nation’s #1 bottled water, is fighting a class-action lawsuit claiming it’s a “colossal fraud,” the company is really selling groundwater, and “not one drop of Poland Spring Water emanates from a waters source that complies with the FDA definition of ‘spring water’,” the suit says. “The famous Poland Spring in Poland Spring, Maine, which defendant’s labels claim is a source of Poland Spring Water, ran dry nearly 50 years ago.”

8. Right-wing news media

C’mon, really? Breitbart and ilk that slam the mainstream media often call themselves “journalists.” Sure, if Clooney is a doctor because he played one on ER.

Real journalists tough their way up the professional ladder by covering local, state, regional, and then national news, working for bad money and answering to hard-bitten editors who demand verified facts and objectivity on deadline. It’s hard work, often under tough conditions.

The right-wing media, if you can find their CVs, are mostly hacks and flacks from conservative political groups like Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and Koch-Bros.-funded organs, or from Tea Party campaigns and talk radio. They sit at desks, scan the reporting of real journalists, and either give it a conservative spin or snark on it. Or parrot White House or other conservative political feeds. They’re proud of not being fair and balanced.

I’ve spent countless hours looking up these folks. None I can tell has sat through local town council, planning and zoning, school board and other meetings, spent hours poring over documents, or months doing grinding work breaking Pulitzer-winning stories.

Example: Breitbart’s “deputy political editor” is Amanda House. She got there after stints with the American Conservative Union, Network Red (“We are Republicans helping Republicans”), and Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette (infamous for posting and then pulling debunked Clinton conspiracy theories), and as “Washington, DC, Bureau Chief for One America News Network.”

What is OANN? The cable channel co-launched by the Sun Myung Moon Unification Church’s Washington Times and circuit-board millionaire Charles Herring, who also launched WealthTV, a lifestyle channel with programs such as “Divine Life” and “Cheese Chasers.”

Mainstream media does not hire folks from the ACLU, NARAL, Sierra Club, Center for American Progress, or other liberal-leaning political groups. It doesn’t hire any political people. It hires people with professional journalism experience.

Right-wing news is news? Totally like actually maybe not. But once again, I’m not getting political here.

***

Why is Babel toppling? Why do we accept that our language is swirling down the commode like so much unfiltered spring water? Like many, I blame the internet. When people accept internet tripe, the internet’s algorithms “think” we want more tripe. So we get more tripe.

To me, that’s a jaw-dropping outrage. Sometimes it makes me wish the internet really would break.

On a happy note, it does give me something to complain about.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.

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