On being … like nails on a chalk board

By Ingrid Sapona

The other morning, the bus I was on drove past the sports centre where the Toronto Raptors (the local NBA team) practice. It was pitch dark outside but on the side of the building was a huge, lit billboard emblazoned with the Raptor’s slogan: We the North. I bristled when I read it.

We the North has been the Raptor’s slogan since 2014 and whenever I hear it – or see it – it causes a reaction in me that’s similar to hearing nails on a chalkboard. For starters, it’s grammatically awful. Sports connotes action – would it have killed them to throw in a verb? But beyond that, it just seems so forced. I can’t help think that the ad agency that came up with We the North was trying to channel the creativity behind the most elegant three-word slogan of all time: Nike’s “Just do it”. But, while brainstorming, someone must have mentioned Doug and Bob McKenzie and the Great White North comedy skits of the 80s and the “creative” team couldn’t get past that. So, what three-word winner did they come up with? We the North. Ugh.  

But clearly, I’m in the minority when it comes to hating that catchphrase. In a 2016 business article I read about the slogan, they talk about how popular it is. According to the woman in the Raptors organization who oversees the brand, the slogan’s been “embraced” because of its authenticity. Authentic? Really?

As I mentioned, part of what bugs me about We the North has to do with the grammar. But, there are some slogans that are grammatically or factually flawed that I don’t bother me. For example, I love “squish the fish” – the rallying cry Bills fans chant when their division-rival Miami Dolphins come to town. But, the charm of the rhyme is lost on my oldest sister (a teacher) who cringes as she points out, “but dolphins are mammals, not fish!” I get her point, but the slogan always makes me smile!

There are a number of popular tropes that bug me because I can’t get past a literal interpretation of them. “No worries” is a prime example. Have you noticed how in some contexts, that phrase has basically replaced, “you’re welcome”. If you doubt me, say thank you to some restaurant server sometime and I’ll bet the response you get is “no worries”. But it’s not the fact that no one says “your welcome” anymore that bothers me. It’s that when someone says “no worries” to me, I want to look them in the eye and ask: “how do you know – maybe I’ve got lots of worries!”

I know from chats with my friends that being literal isn’t just a trait that runs in our family. When Trump first rolled out his Make America Great Again slogan, a friend of mine invariably complained that he wished someone would ask Trump WHEN exactly he thought America was great. Point well taken, I thought.

“It is what it is” is another popular saying that really grates on me. I think it’s the defeatism inherent in it that bothers me. Of course something is what it is – but does that mean you have to live with it that way? The implication is yes – only a fool would think or behave otherwise. But, but…

Another popular phrase that I find really irritating is, “Been there, done that”.  I can never tell if the person saying it is bragging or being dismissive. To me it says “I’ve already done that or experienced that and I’ve moved on, but you can go ahead and try it for yourself, if you must.”  I know, I read a LOT into things!

But reading things into an expression isn’t necessarily bad. One of my favourite au currant catchphrases is “You got this”. Sure, it sounds a bit like a daily affirmation that Stuart Smalley (a character portrayed by Al Franken on SNL in the 90s) might have said. But what’s wrong with a using a phrase that boosts confidence or shows support?

What about you? Are there any pop expressions that grate on your nerves? Or any that you especially like? Do tell…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


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