The other night, while watching “America's Got Talent” (a show which proves beyond a doubt that most of America does not have talent), Howie Mandel complimented a contestant when he coined a phrase that I am truly tired of hearing. “You owned that performance,” he said.
I wish I had a dime for every time a television judge used that now-hackneyed phrase. Of course, I'm aware that everything uttered on television can't be taken literally (especially when much of television these days is utter trash), but certain phrases, like this one, irk me.
Technically, Howie Mandel's use of the word “own” is correct. The dictionary defines the word thus: “of, pertaining to, or belonging to oneself or itself (usually used after a possessive to emphasize the idea of ownership, interest, or relation conveyed by the possessive).” Own is “used as an intensifier to indicate oneself as the sole agent of some activity or action.” Therefore, saying a contestant “owned” his/her performance is correct, but it's also annoying, much like Randy Jackson's commentaries, “you did your thing, dawg!” and “a little pitchy.”
The fact that over-used television phrases find their way into everyday speech proves the power of the medium. For example, the term “jump the shark” became synonymous with “the lowest point” years ago when Happy Days' Fonzie jumped a shark while on water skis, dragging the show to a new low. More recently, I had never heard the word “cougar” used to describe anything other than an animal until Courtney Cox debuted her series of the same name. “Cougar,” a term now equally as insipid as Paris Hilton's “that's hot,” has been redefined as a woman forty years of age or older who pursues much younger men. Go figure.
Television phrases reshape our language. They also make us lazy. If we can't find appropriate descriptions on our own, we fall back on colloquialisms popularized by the media. I, for one, am tired of it. I don't want another television contestant to do “their thing, dawg,” or “own their performance,” or sing “a little pitchy.” Enough already! Haven't we “been there, done that?”