OPINION: Reach out and correct someone



We hear it every day, yet it means nothing—“reach out.”

The Four Tops released an album through Motown Records called Reach Out in July, 1967. That should be how this phrase is remembered and the use of the phrase should have stopped shortly thereafter; but it didn’t.

Apparently the use of the phrase experienced resurgence in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. So much so that it prompted journalist Mike Royko to do an investigative piece on the use of the phrase. His findings were published in The Baltimore Sun in 1991, and according to that article, based on statistics gathered by a 12-month search for the “reach out” phrase in three newspapers—the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Washington Post, President Bill Clinton held the title of being the public figure who most overused the phrase during that time period.

Royko began his investigative piece with “Today’s politicians and other public figures need arms so long that their hands drag on the pavement. They need these long limbs in order to ‘reach out.’ You’ve probably noticed that ‘reaching out’ is what most politicians do these days.”

The use of the phrase again should have stopped then, but it didn’t.

It has since become even more mainstream and apparently acceptable in most circles as good communication.

Royko’s explanation can be applied to the population-at-large today, and when the general public begins to emulate politicians, we are indeed in a dire situation as a society.

I cringe when I hear “reach out” used in a speech when the meaning is clearly that some sort of an effort has been made to communicate with another person or organization. The usual meaning is that the person has phoned, emailed, left a message for, written a letter to, requested information from, etc. So why not say specifically what action was taken or is intended to be taken?

It seems that “reach out” is an ambiguous substitute for being specific about an action.

Hardly a day passes that I don’t hear or read this phrase in professional communication or during newscasts.

People who likely have college degrees and who have been in the professional arena for decades use it often, as if it were acceptable.

The phrase is used often by journalists who should have been taught in news writing 101 the importance of communicating clearly and concisely; yet they use it regularly.

Just this morning I had a voice message from a representative of a prominent organization in DeKalb County; the message began with “Hello, John. This is *****, I’m just reaching out to you to say hello….” Really? In my world, she was calling or phoning me. One has to wonder just how long one’s appendages are if they are able to reach across a county as large as DeKalb.

I’d love to know what prompted educated persons to begin using a phrase that clearly is grammatically incorrect and why associates did not correct them at the first utterance of the phrase. Why do news editors allow news writers to use the phrase? Why do news anchors not refuse to use the phrase?

I’m afraid this phrase is yet another example of the dumbing down of America. I can promise that as long as I am around, readers will never see this phrase on the pages of The Champion, unless it is a direct quote.

The last grammatically incorrect word or phrase I recall being misused and abused at this level was “conversate.” Thankfully, that one didn’t stay around very long.

Do your friends, family and associates a favor. “Reach out” and correct them when they use incorrect words and phrases; they’ll eventually appreciate it.


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