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Their View: ‘We take this very seriously’ and other cliches of the moment

Their View: ‘We take this very seriously’ and other cliches of the moment

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle sit for an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

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.”

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?”

If you have yet to hear or notice this latest buzzphrase, just “wait for it,” as they say in cliché world. It’s become obligatory in every crisis manager’s handbook and is coming soon to a screen near you.

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.” You can see Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake’s version of this on YouTube.

Personally, among competing cliches today, I’m pulling for President Joe Biden’s “come on, guy” or “here’s the deal,” which have a kind of nostalgic freshness.

In sum, at the end of the day, we take this seriously because we are all in this together. We will reach out to our stakeholders and circle back to those who have pivoted to the new normal to make clear that going forward we will follow the science with transparency as conditions on the ground permit.

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. His guest opinions have appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Houston Chronicle and Huffington Post, among other publications. ©2021 The Baltimore Sun

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