As writers, we strive to use the five senses to enhance all aspects of our stories (I know, there are more than five). Let’s agree to be purists today. Fair warning, this is actually about the evolution of our language.
In different environments, language evolves because there are proprietary meanings associated with that particular business. Sometimes, this is necessary and appropriate. Acronyms are a popular form of language that business uses and I’m sure you’ve seen comedy bits of dialogue made up almost entirely of those abbreviations. It seems like you’re hearing a foreign language, and you are.
One phrase that has become standard bugs me. Not an eloquent way to say it, but true. It doesn’t make sense.
Reaching out used to mean touching. I reached out my hand and touched someone/something. Touch is one of the primary five senses. Easy to understand.
In many fields, it now means to contact. I first heard it in cop shows. The tough cop or detective would say, “I’ll reach out to my snitch. See if he knows anything.”
Okay, it’s television. Maybe the show consultant told them that phrase is used in the field. But then…my vendors (I’m a tech reseller) started saying, “Janis, just thought I’d reach out and see if you need anything. We have some great new products.”
I thought, no, you’re calling me. Don’t say you’re reaching out, because you’ll have a heck of a time getting to me through the phone lines. The use of “reach out” as meaning to contact is widespread now. I hear it in meetings at work (a university) and on almost any movie or television show involving dialogue where someone has to contact another person.
I ran across an article called “The 25 Most Annoying Phrases Business Managers Use” and, sure enough, there it was. Click on the link to see the rest. I’m sure you’ll recognize most of the 25. Here’s the entry on “reaching out.”
Reaching Out – This phrase is probably most annoying because it seems no one calls or emails anymore, they just reach out – its usage has certainly exploded. The image of someone reaching out to us is more than a little creepy, and yet more and more of our colleagues tell us they are “reaching out” to us – we’d prefer they just email. The AskTheManager replacement phrase leaders should use: Contact.
I love that our language is fluid and evolves. But, some changes bug me. It doesn’t make sense.
How about you? Are there phrases or words whose meaning has changed that push your button?