Words and expressions, at least meaningless ones, seem to be contagious. Several years ago, someone was explaining something to me and preceded his conclusion with the expression “at the end of the day…” I suppose he might have said “when all is said and done” or “finally” or just left out any transition to his conclusion. It does evoke something like the end of a day’s work as a fresh way of expressing finality, but it wears thin pretty fast with endless repetition. Maybe I hadn’t noticed the expression before, but after that conversation, I started to hear “at the end of the day” at the end of everything that was said. I couldn’t believe how fast it spread.
Recently, I’ve noticed that “moving forward” is catching on. I’ve been watching a lot of television coverage of the American political campaigns, and every politician and political pundit at some point says “moving forward” or “going forward.” The phrase is ubiquitous. “Here’s the math for Bernie Sanders going forward.” “Moving forward, Trump will have difficulty uniting the party.” “Going forward, we have no idea what we’re talking about.”
In most, if not all, cases leaving “going forward” out would entail no loss of meaning.
Then there are rather more colourful expressions that become hackneyed from over use: It’s cheap as dirt, she was high as a kite; We’re all in the same boat; He has bitten off more than he can chew.
Once when my workout partner and I were getting dressed in the locker room, he brought such phrases up and wondered how they get started. Could we come up with a colourful idiom, he wondered, start using it, and see if it spreads? He decided to try. He came up with the following way to indicate that a situation is very bad, or we are really in serious trouble: “We’ve really got our nuts in the lasagna now.” There could be variations: “We have to pull our nuts out of the lasagna before it’s too late.” “Be careful you don’t get your nuts in the lasagna.” “Donald Trump has really put the Republican Party’s nuts in the lasagna.”
We both agreed to use the expression from time to time. I confess that I used it only once or twice inappropriately and realized that using it would never be appropriate outside the locker room. I’m not sure how many times my friend used the expression or how many parties he was never invited to because he was using it, but it never seems to have caught on. If you Google “nuts in the lasagna,” the only thing that comes up is a recipe for vegetarian lasagna.
At the end of the day, how such expressions spread remains a mystery. Going forward, “nuts in the lasagna” will probably never catch on.