Thursday, April 3, 2008

Phrased Out, Part 5: "Soonest"

It’s time for another entry in our ongoing series “Phrased Out,” in which we try in vain to disabuse people of their irritating linguistic habits. Ironically, I suspect there are people who would say MY linguistic habits are a tad bit annoying, but those people simply lack panache and imagination. Either that, or they're just poopy-heads. Simply stated, I like to garnish my speech with the occasional seasoning or two; I don’t pour salt all over everything like a demented fry clerk trying to give someone a stroke.

The latest word that’s giving ME a stroke is “soonest.” Why, you may wonder, would such a seemingly benign word raise my blood pressure so? Well, it’s not the word itself but the way it has been twisted and perverted in the name of pretentious corporate-speak. In this instance, I’m annoyed by people who use “soonest” to mean “as soon as possible, and make it snappy, salmon-breath.”

The last time I checked, at least here on this toxic blue and green ball, the word “soon” meant within a short span of time or in the near future. Of course, what that period of time actually IS can be relative to a lot of factors; what seems “soon” to a Galapagos turtle or someone waiting for a Kate Hudson movie to end may not be the same as what is “soon” to you or me.

Similarly, the SUPERLATIVE form of “soon” always meant (roughly) “coming before all others in linear time.” For example, “Matt will be here soonest,” USED to mean “Matt will be here before Joe, Roy, Sally, and Stevie the one-armed drug dealer.” If you wanted your copy of “S&M TODAY" to arrive “soonest,” you wanted it to show up in your P.O. Box BEFORE the leather masks and whips you ordered. Or, at the very least, before your frail old mother found it and suffered a massive coronary.

Now consider “ASAP,” which, of course, is shorthand for “as soon as possible.” You would think the corporate mannequins would adore a term like “ASAP.” First of all, it’s compact and concise. Secondly, it conveys the image of someone who needs to conserve every available nanosecond for blackberry’ing, cell-phoning, power-lunching and screwing-over. In other words, someone who is MUCH too busy (and much too good) to waste .0004 seconds typing out the words “as soon as possible.”

But not so fast (fastest?)! “ASAP” has lost a lot of its pretentious cache over the years due to indiscriminate overuse. It appears in everything from greeting cards to love letters to everyday conversations. That’s DEFINITELY no good for corporate climbers who pride themselves on being as trendy, cloying, and obnoxious as possible. Their goal is to create a self-perpetuating system of masturbatory corporate-speak that reeks of self-importance and presumed superiority.

Exit: ASAP. Enter: Soonest.

Why is “soonest” so annoying? Well, if by “soonest” you mean “first,” then you should just say “first.” “Please do this first” is a perfectly acceptable request. However, you better be the boss if you’re gonna go around issuing such demands. If by “soonest” you mean “before all other tasks coming up” (a legitimate use of the word) you should also be the boss, and not some schlub who thinks his latest vanity project supersedes the 9,678 other menial tasks I’ve been given today.

However, even if you ARE my boss, there’s usually no good reason to say “soonest” instead of “first.” I suppose if you wanted to acknowledge that I’m probably in the middle of a project you could use the word “soonest” (read: after my present task) but even then the word “next” seems much more appropriate.

All of which brings us to the most annoying use of all. If you are using “soonest” to mean “as soon as possible,” then just SAY “as soon as possible! "Soonest” DOESN’T TRANSLATE TO “AS SOON AS POSSIBLE” any more than “best” translates to “as good as you can possibly be.” “Soonest” sounds cutesy or precious at best; obnoxious and demanding at worst.

So, if you’re a co-worker and you send me an e-mail that reads, “Can you dub my home movies for my personal website? Please handle soonest,” you had better be prepared for a long, long wait.

Simply put, if you want your requests handled in a timely fashion, the words “soon” and/or “quickly” are sufficient. “Please handle soon,” is all you need to say; you don’t need to throw an unwarranted “-EST” on the end to try and create the illusion of urgency. That is, unless you actually think you ARE my boss and you’re telling me to encode your home movies before I do anything else.

If that’s the case, I would kindly ask that you please go to hell soonest.

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