Outreach to/On the same page

The person who wrote to object to “the same page” and the verb “outreach to” has art and beauty among his job responsibilities. That may explain some of his objection to these shopworn phrases. Neither expression is beautiful, to put it kindly, and both tend to be used artlessly, to the point of tedium. But to my eye, those are the worst things that can be said about either phrase.

The verb “to outreach,” for example, turns up in the Oxford English Dictionary in its currently trendy meaning — “to reach out, as if with arms extended” — in a 200-year-old quotation from the English poet Robert Southey (whose place in the pantheon of art and beauty is surely nowhere near the top tier). The phrase seems a little corny even in Southey’s usage, and is surely much more so today, now that the advertising jingle “reach out and touch someone” has made the phrase something of a mantra among the touchy-feely set.

Yet however much one might object to the phrase’s gooey sentimentality, it has been around a long time and means something relatively clear, and most people recognize that meaning as soon as they see or hear the phrase. Tiresome, certainly. But jargon? I’d vote No.

Likewise, “on the same page.” I can’t find an origin for the phrase — which could mean that it’s so old and common that it has never seemed to require special note. It surely predates the computer age; it seems most obviously to refer to a group of people who are trying to follow along in their separate copies of a single publication — as in a classroom, a church, or a musical ensemble. There is nothing particularly “tech” about it, high or low. It’s just a metaphor — overused, to be sure — for people trying to work together on a common text (or, by metaphorical extension, a common set of ideas or principles or facts). The phrase has an annoying habit of turning up almost every time people are working together on anything — to the point where you fear you might scream the next time you see it. That is an aesthetic problem of the first order. But the meaning of the phrase is neither obscure nor fuzzy, and therefore not on the same page with real jargon.

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