By LARRY WOODY
Every year there’s a tiresome phrase or over-worked catch-word that worms its way into our cultural dialogue.
This year’s winner is “actually.”
It’s usage has actually become so common-place that it can actually drive you nuts. (See? Even I’m actually doing it now.)
It’s not just over-used in everyday conversation; even TV newsmen and commentators can’t manage to complete a sentence without using “actually.”
“The robbers actually were apprehended by a little old lady on roller skates.”
“Bob said he actually proposed to Melba just before the boat sank.”
“The congressman said he actually didn’t know what happened to the missing campaign funds.”
“According to our Doppler radar there is actually some rain in the forecast, although we actually aren’t sure about it.”
“A big whale actually ate Jonah.”
“The car actually came to rest on top of the outhouse.”
“Barbara Jean actually ran off with a gang of bikers.”
“Bob said he didn’t actually care if Barbara Jean came back.”
“The bikers actually brought her back the next day.”
I don’t actually know why everybody started using ‘actually’ in every sentence, and I actually don’t give an actual hoot -- except that, actually, it’s irritating.
Back in the Dark Ages when I was in journalism school we were taught to avoid littering our missives with such deadwood verbiage, but apparently (actually?) that’s not the case nowadays.
One my grumpy old professors delighted in taking a red-grease pencil to my literary submissions and striking out all extraneous words.
When I’d get my papers back, they would look like they had been dipped in red ink. More words were X-ed out than were left in.
Professor Grump also detested cliches, even in weather reports. How come, he wondered, we never heard of golfers using hail-sized golf balls?
It was painful to see my purple prose drawn and quartered like a turkey at Thanksgiving -- I’ll bet he wouldn’t have slashed Keats’ feature on coed bikini beach volleyball like that -- but after I cooled off I had to admit the stuff read much better. Well, shorter, anyway.
That’s what’s wrong with journalism today. We need more grumpy old professors armed with red grease pencils.
Of course today’s students don’t know what a red grease pencil is. (It’s an artifact that was used to make “corrections” on “copy” that had been “typed” on “paper.”) There may be one in a museum somewhere, in-between the beaver hats and the buggy whips.
Back in the old days, if someone had dared turn in a paper liberally sprinkled with useless, trifling words like “actually,” my old professor would have melted down an entire box of red grease pencils X-ing them out. I actually believe that.
I realize that, compared to famine and pestilence and the designated-hitter rule, the over-use of “actually” is not that big a deal at the window of the world’s Complaint Department.
But that still doesn’t keep it from actually driving me nuts.