Since I teach two sections of public relations writing, I am always thinking about the use of the language. Some usage makes me crazy, especially when used by the media.
Like the word “brandish”. The word means to “wave threateningly, as in a weapon.” News people frequently say things like, “An assailant brandished a weapon in the Quickie Mart today.” But we never hear anyone use the word in day-to-day discourse.
“I saw something awesome today! Lance entered the coffee shop and brandished a Starbucks card threatening to buy ever-so-svelte Muffy a most fattening mocha frappuccino with whipped cream. It was like so frightening.”
Or this phrase: “He/she went missing”, or worse, “had gone missing”. News people say this all the time. I’ve know people who have been missing for a time, like when Nordstrom has a shoe sale. I know people who are missing for days then, or at least as long as the sale lasts.
“Hey, where’s what’s-her-name? I have not seen her lately,” I might say.
“She went missing,” comes the reply. No, she is missing. She went to the shoe sale at Nordstrom.
Another one: “He/she turned up dead”. Yes, the media uses this one frequently, too. “So-and-so turned up dead, after he went missing two months ago.” Hey, guys like shoes, too. Why didn’t they check Nordstrom?
“Turned up dead”. That is such a curious way to describe the end of a life.
One more: “Who knew?” You hear this used frequently, usually after a question that the speaker of the phrase could not answer. I think it is a rhetorical question.
Who needs rhetorical questions?
I think this phrase has its origins in our ancient history. When I hear it, I immediately have an image of cave dwellers gathered around a big fire in a large cave somewhere in prehistoric times. The clan leader, in an effort to provide security, must have asked, “Who new?”
In the back somewhere a stranger must have replied, “Me new. Me Og.”
If Og did not socialize well into the clan, he may have gone missing, only later to turn up dead. To record it all, one of our communication-prone ancestors probably drew a picture of it on the wall, and another reported it to the clan.
“In other cave news, Og, a newcomer, who went missing recently after a cave meeting, turned up dead in the bone pile today. Witnesses say a stone axe-brandishing assailant was observed running from the scene. Now, back to you, Uluk.”