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COLUMN: Some words should be deactivated at all costs

Looking forward, reporter Bob Bruton has grown tired of fulsome discussions and robust investigations
Stock image.

Clearly, I have a problem with words.

Not as I use them, of course, but how other people use them.

This is a common sentiment that I need to get out of my system at least once a year, so bear with me if you’ve heard any of this before.

Let’s start with sports in general, hockey in particular.

Don’t you tire of the play-by-play or colour guy saying “the Leafs need to ‘activate’ their defencemen to win this game”?

What the heck does that really mean?

It’s not like the Leafs’ defencemen have been deactivated and are just standing still, like powerless robots, no longer playing, while the other team skates right on by.

What "activate" means is the defencemen need to join the rush up or down the ice.

Carry the puck into the other team’s end, take a pass, give a pass there, take a shot on goal.

"Activate" doesn’t describe that.

What it means in the Leafs’ case, of course, is a Toronto defenceman joins the rush, gets caught up ice and the other team scores because the Leafs don’t have enough players back to prevent the goalie having to fish the puck out of his net. 

Now to be fair, "activate" isn’t the only word that bothers me.

Let’s get out of sports and into politics.

For the moment, let’s forget about "fulsome" (you mean thorough?) and the phrase "looking forward," which politicians always use when they can’t figure out which way to look, but want us to know it’s not backwards.

One word I have the most trouble with, and it’s a big part of what I call politico-speak, is "robust."

It either means something different to everyone who says it or hears it, or nothing at all.

And every time I write one of these columns, I need to look it up in the (online) dictionary.

Merriam-Webster says "robust" means vigorous, sturdy, rough or rude, full-bodied or hearty, among other words. (So you could call soup "robust" or hearty, in theory. If you ever told your aunt her soup was "robust," you might get a dirty look.) 

And yet I keep hearing politicians of all stripes talking about "robust" reports or investigations or policies or probes or inquiries or whatever it is that our elected officials do when they’re not holding three-hour meetings and not particularly accomplishing anything.

I guess what’s needed is to figure out what version of "robust" is required for a particular situation.

"Robust" also means bold, firm and unyielding, which I found in my daughter’s Oxford Dictionary of Current English from 1998. 

So when a politician says "robust," my eyes glaze over and I stop paying attention, if only for a few moments. Probably what also happens if politicians ever read my columns, which I’m sure isn’t often.

Unnecessary words are just like signs that make almost no sense.

Ever driven down Granville Street in Barrie? It has a least one sign that reads ‘Slow Down! Children at play!’ Or an approximation of that.

But Granville has so many potholes, dips, dives and small washboards that drivers don’t need signs to slow up.

Because if you don’t, Granville will tear the bottom out of your automobile.

I’ve seen exhaust systems fall off cars as they turn onto Granville, just to get it over with.

And I see recent pothole patches on Granville so, in theory, it’s been worse.

Just to be clear, I am not making light of the importance of keeping kids safe on our roadways, even though Granville has sidewalks on both sides and that’s where children should walk. My kids used to walk to King Edward School that way, before the public school board closed the Burton Avenue building by not maintaining it, and then saying it was falling apart.

So, what have we covered so far.

Activate, fulsome, looking forward, robust and too-obvious signs — don’t even start on me with ‘signage’ — and the history of a closed school.

Anything I’ve forgotten, this time around?

Oh, and those commercials poking fun at Canadians betting with American sports gambling sites because most of our southern neighbours know nothing about hockey.

Which is probably true, but Rick Mercer and his Talking to Americans needs to be acknowledged as that’s where the idea undoubtedly came from, in my humble opinion. 

I should be back in a year or so with another list, and it will probably be the same list, but that won’t stop me from writing it.

Bob Bruton covers city hall for BarrieToday. He doesn’t have a problem writing some words, he has a problem hearing them again and again. Kind of like this column.