You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Introducing The Language Cop

One of this blog's responsibilities, I decided during my week off (thanks to Isaac Chotiner for filling in!) will be to keep track of unacceptable words and catchphrases that enter the political dialog. Nothing can be done about the government officials who use them, but any journalist who uses them ought to be fired, or at least put on probation, for committing offenses against the mother tongue. (Not that newspapers and magazines need much of an excuse to fire people in these troubled economic times.) 

Our first entries will be optics and inflection points.

Washington cliches are always invented for a reason, and in these instances the reason is to create a fake scientific aura around the concepts of "appearances" and "significant developments." If I say that something looks bad, I sound as though I have an opinion. If I say that something has poor "optics," I am merely taking a scientific reading from some imaginary gizmo the breaks down the visible spectrum into stuff that looks bad and stuff that doesn't. You can deny that something looks bad. You can't deny that light is both wave and particle.

Similarly, if I say some development is significant, I am rendering judgment as to its significance. But if I say it's an "inflection point" I'm saying something that I don't even understand that apparently has to do with differential calculus. And math, like the scientific properties of light, is not open to dispute.

If you're using either of these terms, dear reader, please stop now.