Monday, December 10, 2007

Phrased Out, Part 3: "Sexy"

AKA: I'm Taking Sexy Back.

This week, in our ongoing series about words that need to be excised from common parlance, we examine the word "sexy." Now, don't go spilling your fat-free mocha-chinos all over your laptops, I'm NOT talking about "sexy" as in the Victoria's Secret ad "What is sexy?" although something tells me that's less of a question than it is a command.

No, what I'm speaking of are the corporate tools and other dunderheads-at-large who insist on using "sexy" to refer to things that are about as far removed from actual sex as a pack of fanboys arguing over the recent decision to change Clea's costume from purple to off-purple in the upcoming big-screen adaptation of "Dr. Strange."

At some point, someone decided that "sexy" could be used metaphorically to describe ANYTHNG viewed as "new, alluring, exciting or scintillating," especially in the realm of business. It doesn't even matter if the subject in question is diametrically opposed to sex, like a picture of Donald Trump doing the frug in a polka-dot speedo. If there is something frighteningly boring, corporate, or unsexy, you can be certain some creatively-bankrupt drone will plaster the label "sexy" on it to in effort to artificially induce excitement.

As a result, the following items (and many more) have become "sexy" under this terrifying new worldview: spread sheets, computer software, casserole dishes, toenail fungus cream, toxic waste dumps, stocks and bonds, bathroom porcelain, Taco Bell coupons, slide projector transparencies, mp3 technology, Kenny G, cheese doodles, office buildings, Hong Kong Phooey toilet brushes (ok, maybe that last one IS a little bit sexy), and just about anything else you can think of. As a result, the word has lost all meaning, vitality and potency. It could probably use a little Viagra itself.*

Like most of the words we examine here, "sexy," as applied to the business-world,was probably pretty clever and novel the first few times it was used in a non-traditional sense. For example, "We are unveiling a sexy new business model this week" probably sounded pretty good the first 9,547,648 times it was said. It also makes sense at a deeper level, if you figure about 98 percent of the time media and big businesses are trying to exploit our baser impulses in a continuing effort to fuel the engine of consumerism.

Consumerism and sex are so deeply intertwined in this country I suppose it was only a matter of time before they were completely fused in everyday language. After all, it's only a hop, skip and a hump from dubbing a sheet of paper in a magazine "sexy" to calling a deep dish pizza or a 4th quarter sales graph the same thing. (By extension, a pie chart, which conceptually combines both pizza AND graphs, is probably about the sexiest damn thing there out there. I often find myself in need a cold shower after reading USA TODAY'S breakdown of where we're buying our odor-eaters this week.)

But I digress. Most of these stooges aren't saying "sexy" because of some deeper symbolic intertwining of sexuality, consumerism and commerce. No, in all likelihood they're merely parroting someone else with more birdseed and brighter plumage who they heard squawking the same empty adjective while hovering around the corporate birdbath. True to their nature, these scavengers couldn't resist the urge to pluck the semi-digested linguistic morsel from the larger bird's mouth and roll it around on their own tongues for awhile. Mind you, half the flavor had already been sucked out, but hey, no one ever accused these birds of having discerning palettes.

The bottom line is this: Despite what you're being told, flow charts aren't sexy. Frozen, imitation bison cutlets aren't sexy. Your local paper's obituary column isn't sexy. Heidi Klum wearing a French maid costume at the breakfast table and arguing with a bikini-clad Jessica Alba over who gets the last of the waffles before settling their differences with a good old-fashioned boysenberry syrup fight isn't sexy. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention on that last one.**

There's nothing wrong with trying to spice up everyday language with words that don't normally apply in a given context. However, when it's done repeatedly and with little thought, words like "sexy" quickly devolve into cliches and meaningless job-speak with little impact on anyone. Let's stop neutering words like "sexy" by using them indiscriminately to prop up our flaccid conversations. I think it's time to leave "sexy" where it belongs, at the NiteOwlz All Night Waffle House.

Oh, and one more thing: I'm glad Justin Timberlake has been single-handedly "bringing sexy back" given the relative dearth of sexually-oriented material in the media. How refreshing!


* I'd also like to stress here that I'm NOT talking about infusing typically non-sexual things WITH sexuality, like painting erotic art on the side of a toaster, or running toaster ads with lingerie models in them. I am specifically objecting to people who think the toaster's extra heat setting qualifies as a "SEXY!" new feature. Well, it's not sexy unless you're intimately involved with your toaster, I suppose. For most of us non-toaster-philes, it's just another setting for us to accidentally burn our toast.

** I am aware that "Heidi/Jessica" is a gender-centric example. If I had tried to make a universal example, or presented an "or" scenario featuring Brad Pitt and Jude Law, I would have seriously diminished the comedic effect of the passage. SO THERE!

1 comment:

Steve Lanzone said...

Another example is the fairly new (and probably already cancelled) TV show called "Dirty, Sexy Money". It's a good bet that since the producers felt the need to put "Dirty" and Sexy" in the title, the show is neither of the two...