You simply cannot read a news item on the Internet or watch a TV talk show without seeing or hearing at least one of the following hackneyed phrases, each of which I find intensely irritating.
Double down — This Blackjack expression refers to a player’s option to double his bet in exchange for one additional card, traditionally dealt face down. The expression has been dragged into political discourse and is now used indiscriminately to refer to a politician’s reiteration of a position or adherence to a strategy. So, for example: “Romney will double down on his core message about the economy” (http://wapo.st/uvHen8); “Fox News tried to double down on the pretend outrage over Kagan’s astonishment that a law had passed” (http://slate.me/w2WF6L). The first time you hear the phrase it sounds fine. The hundredth time you hear it you want to strangle the culprit who utters it. A good journalist or talking head will shun the phrase and come up with something less tired.
Kick the can down the road — The most detestable consequence of our dysfunctional politics, aside from the damage being inflicted on our nation, is the proliferation of this trite expression. Run a search for the phrase on Google News any random day and your odds of finding it in an article published that day are close to 100%. Here’s today’s illustration, from the Baltimore Sun: “But what the payroll tax cut also does is kick the can down the road, in the sense that future taxpayers will have to make up the revenues that are being lost today with new revenues in the future” (http://bsun.md/rOqE76). Listen to any news show on TV and you’re almost guaranteed to hear the phrase repeatedly. When will it stop? Probably not until some new platitude takes its place.
Push the envelope — This is a bastardized version of the expression most of us first learned in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, in which test pilots take an aircraft up to or beyond its theoretical altitude or speed limit (referred to as its “performance envelope”). The original phrase was push the edge of the envelope. It has been shortened, at least in political discourse, to push the envelope, which brings to mind a wholly inapt image of someone pushing an envelope along a desk. This expression is not as common as the other two, but I find it no less grating.
Okay, this is where I get to create my first poll, and you get to weigh in on which of these expressions is the most irritating. Since my readership is rather limited (a euphemism for low single digits), the polling results may not be all that reliable, but who cares?