I’m probably the only one that notices these things, but the media goes through phases where they latch on to a word or phrase and then overuse the hell out of it. Currently, it’s the phrase “so-called”. First, let’s check the definition.
Merriam-Webster lays it out as:
—used to indicate the name that is commonly or usually used for something
—used to indicate a name or description that you think is not really right or suitable
Full Definition of SO-CALLED
: commonly named <the so–called pocket veto>
: falsely or improperly so named <deceived by a so–called friend>
The first definition is correct, but the common usage is the second. There are many times in journalism where you have to understand that the dictionary definition and the common usage don’t always jibe. But, hey, that’s part of the job. If you’re paying attention.
If you ask the internet for examples of so-called in a sentence, all you get is the second, skeptical definition of so-called. Because why would anyone use so-called for the first if you can just use “called”? (which you can) The only people who would do that are ones that are trying to sound smart or justify their continued employment, like journalists often do.
This current trend of the over/misuse of so-called first came to my attention during California’s recent spate of wildfires. I kept hearing about the “so-called Colby fire”, the “so-called Banner fire”, the “so-called King fire” and so on. I was wondering why they were calling into question the names of these fires. I pointed it out to my wife and she thought it odd too.
Eventually I realized that it was because they were using so-called in the dictionary definition and not the common usage. Now I hear it everywhere. Recently it was the “so-called Black Box” of a lost Air Asia flight. Now, technically that isn’t incorrect. For one, the box is likely orange, like the one above, to make it easier to find in a wreck or at the bottom of the sea. Two, the correct name is “flight data recorder”. But, again, common usage is to simply call it the black box. Or, as a journalist, to do your job properly and call it “The flight data recorder, commonly known as the plane’s black box.”
But, alas, so-called journalists will always try to sound more intelligent than they are, and end up sounding like they are skeptical of the name black box, or the name of a fire, or however else they continue to misuse the phrase.
Want more examples of this silly word trend? Check out “utilize” some time. Again, Merriam-Webster weighs in.
: to use (something) for a particular purpose
: to make use of : turn to practical use or account
“Turn to practical use or account”. The word is not a synonym for use. The difference is, you use something for its intended purpose. You utilize something for other than its intended purpose. Like combing your hair with a fork a la Ariel in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”.
But people who want to sound smart swap utilize for use, because its bigger and sounds fancy. Who cares if it’s not the proper usage, I sound good! No you don’t. You sound like someone who doesn’t know what they’re saying. Again.
Ok, I’m done here. Good luck, Happy New Year. See you soon.