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Why can’t Apprentices ‘talk the talk’?

Tongue-tied Apprentices' "skill sets" don't include intelligent speech. By Sarah D. Bunting
/ Source: contributor

Viewers can probably think of lots of reasons not to hire this season's crop of Apprentice to clean their bathrooms, much less run a company — the , the epithets, Trump hench-blonde Carolyn's open contempt for at least half of them. And it's not just their attire or behavior that's unprofessional and vaguely pathetic.  The second-season cast of "The Apprentice" can't seem to stop mangling the English language.

The problem starts at the top, with Donald Trump, whose persistent use of hyperbole renders meaningless many of his pronouncements about size or quality.  According to Trump, everything is the biggest, or the best — particularly products or buildings carrying the Trump name, and anything New York City-related.  In a recent episode, he called New York City "the benchmark for success," an inaccurate statement even if it made sense — which it sort of didn't.

Then again, Trump is also claiming that , last season's winner, is actually in charge of something important.  Which he sort of isn't.  But that hasn't stopped the Apprentices from glomming onto the boss's use of exaggeration for their own ends. 

Stacie J., whose (read: refusal to ape her teammates' catty buck-passing) led to her firing, was accused of suffering from multiple personalities (by Maria) and borderline schizophrenia (by Ivana), and of making Sandy feel "threatened."  Stacy with a Y described the situation as "one of the most scary moments of [her] life," another unqualified overstatement made even more absurd by the fact that Stacy doesn't know how to use a superlative (the word is "scariest," half-pint).

At another point, Ivana — the worst usage offender — referred to the high price of a printing quote as "raping" her.  She couldn't have found a less inflammatory and drama-queeny way to say the same thing?

Tongue-tangling misstepsThe Apprentices often seem to have taken a page from the current president's public-speaking playbook, vainly flailing in the direction of the right word.  Jennifer M., an attorney, described her feelings before meeting Trump for the first time as "scariness" (she probably meant "apprehension").  A couple episodes later, Ivana defended herself against charges of "unorganization," a made-up word that the twitchy Maria immediately parroted. 

The recently ousted Pamela described Maria's on-camera performance for a QVC sales task as "gregarious"; the performance in question resembled a PSA about methamphetamine, so she probably meant "discombobulated" (or the less sophisticated  "spazzy").

The women can't pronounce proper names, apparently.  New York Met Mike Piazza is one of the best-known players in baseball, never mind the Big Apple, but Jennifer C. never figured out that double Z.

The women can't spell, either.  Use of the TiVo's pause button during Apex team meetings revealed incorrect renderings of "mimosa," "cannoli," and most depressingly of all, the team name itself, "Apex."  Perhaps "Appex" is a word that I've never heard of, connoting ambition and success, but somehow I doubt it.

The men enjoy overusing military metaphors, like content-free pronouncement minutes after his booting that "a general goes into battle with his army."  Bradford, who pronounced Carolyn's name incorrectly, also observed that "coming in second ... is like coming in last."  Interesting, because, with only two teams competing, coming in second isn't "like coming in last."  It is coming in last. 

No wonder Trump ejected him; it's a pity he didn't eject Wes also, for not understanding the definition of the word "metaphor," or Chris, for announcing that he knows how to change the gas in a car.  He meant "oil," or possibly "I should think before speaking."

Language of businessBoth teams abuse sports metaphors with equal abandon — the phrase "step up to the plate"  should be retired immediately — and both teams fall back on empty business-speak instead of using words that communicate actual information. 

Wes thinks "utilize" sounds more businesslike than "use," when actually it only sounds more pretentious.  Recent college grad Andy busted out some Latin with the phrase "ad hoc," but didn't seem to know its actual meaning. Fragile Elizabeth suggested "download[ing] all our ideas" instead of just saying "write everything down," then sprained her tongue with the non-word "deprioritize." And Ivana … well, what corporate blather hasn't Ivana used?

She's drawn up flow charts while throwing around words like "drivers" and "consensus."  She's said "skill set" at least three times when "skills" would have done just as well.  She talks about what teammates "bring to the table." She's referred to Stacie J. as "this particular resource."  She's accused Elizabeth of "talking the talk but not walking the walk," a hackneyed observation that didn't even work, since Elizabeth had not made any spectacular claims about her abilities (fortunately, since her abilities do not include knowing when to use "less" and when to use "fewer").

Ivana also perpetrated the nonsensical phrase "taking accountability" — a typical malapropism from an Apprentice, in that it attempts to sound lofty while making the speaker seem affected and poorly read.  Accountability can't be taken; responsibility can be taken, but accountability either is there or isn't.  Of course, Ivana and the Apex team know so little about either responsibility or accountability in this situation that it's easy to see how she made that mistake, but in any case, Ivana really needs to do a lot  less "talking of the talk" herself.

The indictment could go on for pages — the use of "collaborate" to mean "waste time," the use of "executive decision" to mean "I think your ideas stink," the misuses of "ironic" and "literally." (Pamela intended to "literally whip [her team] into shape" — I think the FCC might have had something to say about that, had it been "literally" true.)  Andy reading and parroting too much Sun Tzu.  Raj thinking he's Dean Martin and calling the Mosaic team name "fruity-toot."  In every episode, multiple crimes are committed against the English language.

It's amusing in its way, watching overeducated MBAs trip over themselves to prove their expertise in the high-powered corporate sphere when they can barely get subjects and verbs to agree.  But in another way, it's pretty bleak.  Why on earth would Trump hire a right-hand man or woman who can't express a cogent thought without clichés like "the weakest link" and "on the same page"?  (Nobody has uttered the abominable "thinking outside the box" yet, but it's only matter of time until one of them says it — or, if it's Ivana, talks about "thinking under the box" instead.)  If these people can't organize their thoughts and words, how can they possibly run a division for Trump?

The answer, probably, is that they don't really run a division for Trump, except in a figurehead capacity — but that's okay, because none of them knows what "figurehead" means.

Sarah D. Bunting is the co-creator and co-editor-in-chief of . She lives in Brooklyn.