We all have one. Or, in the case of some of us, several. It could be a new catchphrase or an old colloquialism. Maybe it's a title, a description, a category, or an explanation of some kind.
But all of us have that particular idiom, expression or ill-named thing that drives us completely bonkers due to its exaggerated, conflicting, or contradictory meaning. An oxymoron, if you will. Something with such an absurd or unsuitable moniker that merely hearing it drives us as "mad as a hatter."
OK, listen, I looked that one up; it's completely legit and has origins traceable back to the 18th century when hats were made with mercury and hat-makers were easily identifiable by their shakiness as a result of exposure to it. Or, so claims the "Phrase Finder" website, based in the U.K.
Either way, there are a million of them out there, folks. OK, maybe not a million. Hmm. Maybe this column is going to be shorter than I'd envisioned. Perhaps a few examples might help.
Firstly, there's "sea glass." I really dislike this phrase. I mean, it sounds like such a wonderful, hidden treasure, doesn't it?
"Oh, when I was a little boy, I used to collect sea glass any time my family and I went to the ocean," Kerry told me many years ago.
What with its smooth finish and colorful nature (usually green or brown; sometimes crystalline), it certainly does seem, especially to the untrained eye, to be a rare find. You know, the remnants of some extraordinary artifact with a wildly interesting history that was lying in wait at the sea's bottom and only made its epic, sparkling rise to the surface so some fortunate soul could find and cherish it for posterity.
Which would be terrific, if it wasn't litter. Yes, friends, yesteryear's Budweiser beer bottle is today's "sea glass." Blech.
Next, there's "toe jam." Alrighty then - gag! I mean, can you imagine how toddlers feel, hearing adults talk about it, only to think it's some kind of tasty toast spread or a happy foot dance?
Only too soon do the wee ones of the world join the rest of us in the regrettable knowledge of what the expression truly signifies in all its vile, putrid glory.
How about a "dull shine?" Look, it's either dull or shiny, pal. It cannot be both.
This next one could possibly be my top irritant of all time: "first annual."
How the heck can you absolutely guarantee it's a yearly event if you're hosting it for the first time ever in the history of - history? What if the event is rained out next year or the funding disappears or kittens rise up and take control of the globe and ban said "it" from ever occurring again?
OK, you get my point. But still, unless you've got at least one under your belt already, let's just go with "inaugural" for your big gala - fair enough?
Seems I'm not the only one fed up with certain phrasing.
Michelle Miller of Wooster was quick to give me her top five annoyances. They include "clean toilet" (gotta give her that one), "congressional ethics" (bahahaha!), "rolling stop" (true that, just ask a police officer), and "awfully happy" (one of these words just doesn't belong here).
Michelle's numero uno? No comment.
No, I'm not being coy. That's the one that most irks her.
"By uttering these two words, you are making a comment!"
Right. And not only that, but now you're enabling the masses to draw any conclusions they wish about your refusal to speak.
She's a quick whip, that Michelle.
Bill James of Boardman offered one that particularly chaps him: "friendly fire." Indeed, and enough said.
For my buddy Lynne Fiest of Southington, it's an anthropomorphism (designating animal qualities to an inanimate object) that sets her off.
"Exactly what is a 'dust bunny,' anyway? Is it a bunny that hops around your house cleaning up your dust? If there really is such a thing I would like to buy one, 'cause gosh knows I have enough dust to keep a bunny busy!" she said.
Perhaps the most apropos of all? My sister-in-law Kim's submission of "new baby."
"Um, have you ever seen an old baby?" she laughed.
Barring the fictional freakazoid Benjamin Button, I'm going to have to answer with a big heck no.
So, anyhow, people, from now on, let's all be a little more careful.
I mean, I'd hate to be the one bringing you old news about the deafening silence that can result from irregular patterns of grammatical speech.
It would be bittersweet.
Kimerer is a Tribune Chronicle columnist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.