Lately, for reasons that are clearly self-serving, I’ve come to believe that persons over age 65 should be allowed at least one good rant every calendar month.  Doing so enables one to keep one’s status as a bona fide curmudgeon.

            Want to know what my rant for this month is?  If your answer is, “Absolutely!” then read on.

            Being an aging baby boomer, I can admit without embarrassment that I watch the PBS NewsHour.  Ever since the years of MacNeil and Lehrer, I’ve liked the program because, rather than simply lay out issues, its moderators interview people who are informed and have sufficient command of English to speak clearly, without falling back on the linguistic fluff that creeps into everyday speech.  As late as 2009, the National Association of Media Literacy Education honored the NewsHour with its highest award.

            But that was then.  (Here begins the rant.) These days, on the NewsHour that is paid for by viewers like me (as they remind me at the start of every show), people being interviewed and even some reporters use the same annoying words and speech patterns that once were reserved for Valley Girls, middle schoolers, and professional athletes.

            It is rare these days for interviewees to answer questions with a simple “Yes.”  Instead, they respond, “Absolutely!” and then follow with “so,” to begin what comes off as a prepared discourse.  And I’ve stopped counting the number of interviewees who interject the questioning tic “right?” at various points in their run-on sentences, as if asking the listener to agree with or affirm whatever they might be carrying on about without giving the listener the opportunity to confirm or deny the implication.  It’s a slightly more sophisticated version of the “Know’m sayin’?” that J- Roc interjects into every sentence he utters on the Canadian television show, “Trailer Park Boys.”  (Kind readers will ignore the incongruity of my watching both the NewsHour and Trailer Park Boys.)

            Besides these tics, certain words and patterns of speech used commonly these days get so deeply under my skin that I scratch it raw.  How many otherwise-reasonable people use such terms as “incredible” or “amazing” to describe events or efforts that are entirely believable or hardly likely to fill one with astonishment?  “He put an incredible move on the cornerback to get free in the end zone,” says the ever-shilling NFL announcer, when all the receiver did was fake left and go right.  And baseball players can’t just be “fast” anymore.  They “have good foot speed.”

            To no one’s surprise, politicians are the worst at this sort of thing.  When asked a direct question, many of their ilk respond, “Well, first let me say . . . ,” and then proceed to talk at length about a subject they prefer.  In my mind, they do this under the apprehension that if they pause for more than an eighth of a second, they may be asked an embarrassing question for which they will have to come up with an evident dodge.  Lately on the NewsHour, when politicians get going into a “first-let-me-say” response, one can hear the ever-too-polite moderator struggling to interject a word.  I’m forever wishing the program’s producers would wire the little buds placed in interviewees’ ears so that the moderator could, with the simple push of a button, administer a mild electronic shock, jolting the person into shutting up and allowing an interruption.  If I were the moderator, I suspect I would tap the button frequently, but maybe that’s just me.

            At times, I’ve even wondered if it’s in politicians’ job description to use many more words than needed when speaking publicly.  (Who my age doesn’t remember Richard Nixon’s famous standard response, “Well, let me say this about that,” enabling him time to think of an answer that listeners might not judge as, well, incredible?)  Extra words inserted willy-nilly into a response can effectively leave no time for questions over inconsistencies or half-truths.  It is my current inclination to distrust anyone who says “each and every,” as in, “I wish to sincerely thank each and every one of you involved in this important and laborious effort.” “Thanks” works fine for me.

            Whew!  It’s good to get some of this off my chest.  Not sure what I’ve left for next month’s rant, know’m sayin’?  It’s a toss-up at the moment between excessive use of exclamation marks (I draw the line at seven per sentence or nineteen per page), use of the passive voice to dodge responsibility (“Mistakes were made” rather than “I screwed up”), and overwrought academic jargon, which is something, to quote the late Winston Churchill, “up with which I will not put.”