News & Politics

Loathsome Word of the Day: Drop

Drop the needle on the record. Photograph by Gabriele Maltinti; via iStock.

Sometimes other people handle my dirty work for me. A while back, NPR’s Melissa Block tweeted about a  word I’d recently been discussing with a friend.

(Note number of likes.) My retweet/reply:

What my friend (okay, brother) had texted me just a few weeks before was this: “Nomination for loathsome word of the day: drop, as in ‘Beyoncé drops surprise album Lemonade in advance of world tour.’ Whatever happened to ‘release’? I don’t object to its occasional use, but some music writers now use it exclusively.”

It’s not only music writers. Just last week, Block’s NPR colleague Steve Inskeep introduced a Morning Edition segment: “Today Netflix drops a dozen episodes of an ambitious new series on the birth of hip-hop. . . .”

For a few seconds, I actually thought he was talking about a series Netflix was canceling. Yes, that’s how loathsome a word drop is when used this way.

Last Thursday, from a Washington Post article about the planned shuttering of 100 Macy’s stores: “But in dropping a summertime announcement that it will close 15 percent of its locations . . . .”

I think of this as the Hollywoodization of speech: specialized language (a.k.a. jargon) that’s absorbed by the general public—more quickly, and I would add unquestioningly, than ever before, now that we eat pop culture for breakfast, debate it on social media throughout the workday, and fall asleep to its iPad glow at night.

Speaking of night, a phrase that’s hardly worth losing sleep over but that’s likewise seeping into the common lexicon is on set—meaning, harumph, on the set, as in movie set. Interviewers now routinely ask actors to talk about something that happened “on set” while shooting a film; writers weave the term into their copy as if it’s been in use forever (and as if they’re in the movie business—they’re not).

My noting that it hasn’t been in common use forever—I would say only the last several years—and that I find it irksome (the pupal stage before full-on loathsome), doesn’t mean I’m immune to pop culture’s influence. As a kid, I spent weekday afternoons parked in front of sitcom reruns and talk shows, wrote English papers as ’70s miniseries like Rich Man, Poor Man and Sybil played, and devoured People and Rolling Stone in the school library.

But my interest in language goes back just as far. I remember noticing as a teenager—like being present at the Creation—the sudden ubiquity of the phrase on hiatus, referring to the period between TV seasons. Celebrities would tell Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas what they did “on hiatus,” and then I started hearing it all around me. Though I certainly can’t prove it, I don’t believe that hiatus, let alone on hiatus, was commonly used before, oh, 1976. I’m agnostic about the term itself.

Which suggests that time does have a tempering effect. On set? That one I’m less neutral about. It just feels like caving. (Itself a colloquialism, of course—we used to say caving in, remember?)

But I’m downright annoyed by drop. Please don’t use it unless you’re a music-business executive. At least for now.

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Senior Managing Editor

Bill O’Sullivan is senior managing editor; from 1999 to 2007, he was a features editor. In another lifetime, he was assistant managing editor. Somewhere in the middle, he was managing editor of Common Boundary magazine and senior editor at the Center for Public Integrity. His personal essays have been cited three times among the notable essays of the year in The Best American Essays. He teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.