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The Home Team / Words we somehow got along without

Published 5:17 am, Thursday, May 15, 2014
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A picture of Bruce Springsteen -- The Boss -- caught my eye. It was in the upper left-hand corner of the first page of the Arts section in Westport's other newspaper. The caption: "Troy Fine Art presents the iconic work of Erik Wahl, internationally recognized artist and author." The iconic work.

Moments later, paging through "USC Trojan Family" (yes, I was working my way down toward the bottom of my not-top-priority reading pile), I came upon a photo of a strange-looking guy with a Groucho-Marx-style mustache, big glasses, and a sweater. This caption read: "In 1994, Saul Bass, one of the United States' most iconic graphic designers, created USC's look and feel . . ." Iconic. That word. Again.

Okay, it was time to be productive. Back to work at my computer. There's a dramatic banner on my CNN homepage: "Casey Kasem is missing." And right beneath the headline: "Radio icon's relatives fear for his safety."

Icon. Iconic. Damn! Where was that word when I was growing up? All my school essays would have sounded so much more weighty and impressive if I'd had that word in my quiver. Here's my challenge to you today: Find an article written in 2010 or later that does not contain some form of the word "icon." Go. And good luck!

There are other words like that. Words that were always words; they were just never used. And I'm not talking about those words that were born as verbs but have now morphed into nouns, like the client's asks that people in the service sectors are forever having to satisfy. Or words that used to be nouns but have been tasked to be reincarnated as verbs. Or that might be even more impactful as adjectives. Nor am I talking about all those absolutely godawful mongrel words -- deliverables, for crying out loud -- that are at the heart of the fast-becoming-universal language of marketing-ese. Or the random words like random that Millennials cannot not use in a sentence.

No. I'm talking about words that were always locked up in the dictionary, but in the last five to 10 years, have tunneled out, and are now running amok all over conversation.

Like venue. Remember, and it was not all that long ago, when stadiums and arenas were chosen for Super Bowls and other championships? Not anymore. Nuh-uh. Now we choose venues. Same for rock concerts. And national party conventions. And wedding rehearsal dinners. How did we ever live without venues?

Yes, venues have certainly changed the narrative. Especially for radio sports talk hosts. I mean, when the Nets finally started winning at the Barclays Center, it changed the whole narrative for that venue.

"Narrative" is to sports talk hosts as horrific is to news anchors. Obviously, 9/11 was horrific. As was the Rwandan massacre. But let's not get carried away. Wouldn't a good, old-fashioned "horrible" still work in most everyday situations? Was the traffic on the L.I.E. really "horrific"?

While a huge number of these dictionary escapees have established new lives in sports talk and newcasts, others have migrated seamlessly into resumes. If I were an employer today, I would hire the very first candidate who didn't profess to have a passion for media planning. Or account management. Or tech support. Or human resources. Conversely, I'd run and hide from any applicant who'd had a transformative experience while spending his/her junior year abroad in (fill-in-the-blank).

Some of these words, for better or for worse, are destined to be with us for the long haul. "Venue" and "horrific" I think we're stuck with. But others? I'm not so sure they won't retreat right back into the dictionary, from whence they came. Narrative? Transformative? They're simply not sustainable.

Hank Herman is a Westport writer, and "The Home Team" appears every other Friday. You can also keep up with Hank's adventures on his blog, "Beagle Man," on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/ To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @BeagleManHank.