So there it was, in a story in a local newspaper, coincidentally on the same day that we had mentioned it, or discussed it, or related it back to real life.
The catchphrase — like any catchphrase — that makes one stop and ask how authentic it really is In this case, it was the educators’ panacea comment, found numerous times and in numerous circumstances – the point of this column being, that the frequency is inversely proportionate to the impact.
“The best interests of the children were foremost.”
Sounds good, but is it actually true, or simply a pushbutton that we use when we are not really sure what else we ought to say? Something must be said; the truth is either negative or too complex or too multifaceted or it simply needs to fill in some space.
So this, for example, sounds good in any educational setting, and discourages the asking, perhaps, of more clarifying questions.
“The best interests of the children were always put foremost.”
Begging the question of which children, or what set of interests, or under what circumstances, or in whose opinion, or to satisfy whose standards?
In no way is this claiming an unique problem, or an isolated situation.
I can remember back in the early ‘90s when a catchphrase in counseling, as I sweated my way through a counseling residency at University of Pennsylvania, was “So you want to go with that?’
A series of unanswered questions might begin with “Go where? Go with what? How far am I supposed to go?”
A clear response might start with “Yes, I want to trust my instincts and my intuition.”
That would be my response, however, and might not work in all circumstances, since some in our counseling program — in any counseling program — give no validity to either instincts or intuition.
At its worst, and most common, then, a catchphrase degenerates into a way of covering all bases, making an intentionally vague statement, or filling in time.
This places it in the same category as one of my favorite movie phrases, from Fargo: “Well now then, there you are.” (How many qualifiers can you string together into one sentence ?)
Catchphrases and buzzwords — where would we be without them? They can keep us from truly evaluating, or giving thought to an evaluation, of a situation or event or person.
“Outstanding”, for example, is so overused that it no longer means much more than competent. Which is okay; there is nothing wrong and indeed, much right, with being competent.
I do not propose a solution. I simply call attention to a possible challenge to our minds and our ability at self expression.
Catchphrases and clich