Sense Sense

23 Apr

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?


Posted by on April 23, 2012 in writing


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14 responses to “Sense Sense

  1. Liz Fredericks

    April 23, 2012 at 8:36 AM


    I often hear someone say “let’s collaborate” or “you’re supposed to collaborate” or “it’s a collaboration”. Unfortunately, I observe the “let’s collaborate” to mean “would you do the work for me? It’s ok cuz I’ll probably share credit”. “You’re supposed to collaborate” turns into “you’re supposed to do what I want”. And “it’s a collaboration” turns into “I’ll make a decision, but before I announce it, let’s get a bunch of people together so no one accuses us of exclusionary tactics”. Ooops, my cynic is a little frisky today . . . down girl, that’s a good girl. 😉

    • Janis McCurry

      April 23, 2012 at 11:02 AM

      I’ll collaborate with a colleague and get back to you. 🙂

  2. ramblingsfromtheleft

    April 23, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    Janis, this is fun. How about “let’s do lunch” or “get in touch” ?? Do you feel me? Slang used during certain times: Right on, bro. I can relate to that.

    Makes me nuts, but it’s also funny if you can use it in a story to highlight those sales guys with their plastic grins … or when they use my first name to try and sound familiar. Yeah, this is lots of fun 🙂

    • Janis McCurry

      April 23, 2012 at 11:03 AM

      “Do you feel me?”

      “Not if you were the last man on earth!”

      Thanks for the laugh.

  3. Peggy Staggs

    April 23, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    There’re so many missuses. In an effort (one supposes) to not be cliché, be new and fresh, or to have insider terms we’ve become just plain dumb sounding. Some of the phrases on the list of 25 I thankfully never heard, but then I’m not part of the inner circle of the business world. It’s all about communication. We should strive to make ourselves clear. :-/ I am going to copy the list of 25. What a great addition to a character.

    • Janis McCurry

      April 23, 2012 at 11:05 AM

      Thanks. I think our “hurry up, I want it yesterday” mentality has spawned a lot of acronyms.

  4. Lynn Mapp

    April 23, 2012 at 11:48 AM

    I like “Throw under the bus.” I wouldn’t change that one. I can see someone taking a person by the arms and pushing them under the bus to save themselves. It gives me a chuckle. I know people like that.

  5. Janis McCurry

    April 23, 2012 at 11:56 AM

    Twisted, Sister! 🙂

  6. maryvine

    April 23, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    I work with students on expressions and idioms. A lot of the students don’t know very many unless their parents use the expressions. So, we teach them, so they might understand what the world is trying to say. I hear expressions on the news the most, seems like. I usually enjoy them, but now I’ll be looking at them in a different light!

  7. Janis McCurry

    April 23, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    Students have their own language that we don’t know. I hear things in the halls of the university and I want to go up to the student and say, “Define that.”

  8. marsharwest

    April 23, 2012 at 10:22 PM

    Cool, post, Janis. The list took me back to principal days. We were always doing training. They talked a lot about “balance.” We needed to have balance in our lives–Work, family, spiritual, health. Well, heck, there was no way–work took up that 110 percent the article mentioned. LOL I’m much more “balanced” since retiring. Thank you, God, and my husband! Don’t get enough exercise, but much more sleep, and get to spend time with the grands, the puppies, and the computer doing writing related activities–like responding to blogs. 🙂

  9. Janis McCurry

    April 24, 2012 at 7:29 AM

    Ah, yes. We didn’t know that even though we were standing without toppling over, we didn’t have “balance.” That’s a great example, Marsha. Thanks.

  10. Clarissa Southwick

    April 24, 2012 at 8:16 AM

    Great list, Janis. There are several on there that irritate me and several I’m guilty of using. I’m sure I’ll be paying more attention to them now that you’ve pointed them out.

    • Janis McCurry

      April 24, 2012 at 11:46 AM

      The morphing of language creeps up on you when you least expect it. We all do it, so maybe it’s just supposed to be.


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