Every so often, like cicadas, a buzzword emerges from the popular dialect and becomes omnipresent in the media lexicon. In the early aughts, the word “nuanced” exploded across the cultural landscape to excuse a politician who couldn’t speak straight or a writer who couldn’t write. In 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry called his ever-shifting position on the war in Iraq “nuanced” as a way of explaining why he was for it before he was against it. Since then, virtually every politician adopted a “nuanced” position on major issues until, finally, George W. Bush proclaimed “I don’t do nuance.”
The current cliché working its way to iconic status is the phrase “we take this seriously.” Or, to show they really mean it, “we take this very seriously.” The phrase is now almost mandatory in any corporate statement of apology, regret or acknowledgment of allegations of sexual harassment. In a recent case, the Ford Motor Company responded to a lawsuit claiming sexual harassment in the workplace by stating “Ford does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination. We take those claims very seriously and investigate them thoroughly.” Countering claims of sexual misconduct, an Ohio bishop in with United Methodist Church said, “we take this seriously — because people matter.”
It is also used more broadly in response to any charge of bias, negligence, incompetence or malfeasance. In responding to Prince Harry’s recent criticism, Buckingham Palace issued a statement declaring that the allegations — particularly those involving race — “are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.”
People are also reading…
Addressing cyberattacks, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said the White House was taking reports of “energy attacks” against its personnel “very seriously.”
After being ranked the worst cellphone carrier in the United States, AT&T proclaimed that “we take this seriously and we continually look for new ways to improve the customer experience.” Domino’s Pizza even employs the phrase on social media: When a customer complained on Twitter that his pizza was not “fresh,” Domino’s responded “we take this seriously and want to investigate. Can you please DM us about your order?”
There are, of course, other rising cliches competing for buzzword status: unpack, metrics, stakeholders, I’m just saying, inflection point, follow the science, it’s all good, curated, artisan, drill down, reach out, touch base, circle back, pivot, loop in, the new normal, bandwidth, synergy, breaking news (does Wolf Blitzer wake up in the middle of the night shouting “breaking news?”), on the table, off the table, transparency, we’re in this together, challenging, narrative, messaging, on the ground, going forward, it is what it is and literally. Every vapid expression will have its 15 minutes of fame. It seems like only yesterday that every final paragraph began with “at the end of the day.”
Perhaps the most amusing idiom today is the ludicrous “spoken hashtag” where people actually speak the word “hashtag” before another word to show how hip they are, as in “hashtag chillin’” or “hashtag are you kidding me.”
In sum, at the end of the day, we take this seriously because we are all in this together.
Steve Frank is an attorney, retired after a 35-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.