Weaponizing Accountability: Impaled on Their Own Words


Though it’s only April, the prize for “Most Abused Word (MAW) of 2023” surely will be awarded to either “accountable” or “weaponize.” 

The former is more overused. Since March 1, 2023, The New York Times featured the word “accountable,” or its twin “accountability,” 216 times, an average of more than five times a day. 

However, the MAW award is also based on these factors:

  1. The ugliness of the word itself.
  2. The context of use that makes the word meaningless, absurd, or both.
  3. The probability that persons using this word do not know what they are talking about.

Weaponize should score well in all three categories. Having been verbified, it is as obnoxious as other words that have suffered forceable verbification.

“Weaponize” has been applied to an excess of unrelated phenomena: The Federal Government , American justice systemwoman ‘s rights, the Web, food, travel restrictions, social media, the electoral system, the IRS, law, humanitarian aid, genetic data, rare earth, natural gas, hypocrisy, incompetence, dreams, literacy, information, and, as you might have guessed, everything.

When Republicans hold hearings on “The Weaponization of the Federal Government,” and then unfailingly support Federal military spending that exceeds the combined budgets of the next nine highest-spending countries, the definition of “weaponize” becomes murky. It has shed all meaning when the Party investigating such Weaponization, fiercely defends the rights of all Americans to purchase and use AR-15 rifles.

But “accountable.” also has no meaning today. Below are a few quotes from The New York Times from March 2023.

On May 22, The Times reported, ” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida this week clarified his description of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” and said that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, was a “war criminal” who should be “held accountable.”’

Ron failed to explain the specifics–The Who, When, Where, What, and How of holding Putin accountable. Ironically, when calling for your adversary to be accountable, speakers remain unaccountable. They never connect the phrase “hold accountable” with “I will.”

On March 25, the Times headlined, “Pope Increases Lay Leaders’ Responsibility in Sexual Abuse Law.” The most significant part of the law, a permanent version of a 2019 measure, may be its impact on the “lay faithful,” who will be “more accountable for abuse.”

When the infallible hold “accountable” the impotent, meaning of this word is unfathomable.

On March 28, The Times quoted Michael S. Barr, the Federal Reserve’s vice chair for supervision. “The Federal Reserve officials will be discussing any potential missed warning signs in their internal review and that ‘we expect to be held accountable.'”

Join the crowd, Mike. When Silicon Valley Bank failed, politicians called for holding accountable the following: Bank executives, the Fed (poor supervision), tech depositors, “woke” bank regulators, asleep bank regulators, Venture Capital partners, the Fed (raising interest rates), the Biden administration, and Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. 

On March 30,2023 the Times Editorial Board proclaimed, “Even Donald Trump Should Be Held Accountable.” Do we really want Trump accountable? 

I looked up dictionary definitions of “accountable:” 

  • Oxford English: Required or expected to justify actions or decisions.
  • Merriam Webster: Capable of being explained.

According to the above definitions, Trump is already accountable. He explains and justifies every action and decision more openly, more often, and more succinctly than any politician in history.

Extortionist Telephone call to Zelenskyy? “Perfect, ” Trump explained.

Telephone call asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to
“recalculate” the Georgia vote count because “I just want to find 11,780 votes”? “A perfect call,” Trump justified.

Read the definitions. Accountability requires explanation and justification, not

My brother, who understands accountability, does not want Trump held
accountable. He wants Trump doing 2-to-5 in The Big House.

Instead of calling for accountability, why don’t American pundits and politicians
echo my brother and confide that they really want to subject their opponent(s) to
impalement (1) or the braking wheel (2).

On March 6, 2023, the Times quoted Senator Bernie Sanders: “Howard Schultz is the architect of Starbucks’s anti-union campaign and should be
held accountable for his actions.”

On March 29, Schultz testified before Senate Health, Education, Labor and
Pensions Committee, chaired by Sanders. For three hours, Sanders forced Schultz
to attempt to justify his actions and decisions. Was Sanders satisfied? No. Bernie did not want accountability. Maybe Bernie was musing about the relative merits of impalement compared to the breaking wheel.

Mike Pence in another pol who does not know the meaning of “accountable.”
Om March 12, 2023, The New York Times headlined, “History Will Hold Donald
Trump Accountable [for Jan. 6], Pence Says.”

Mike, give me the details. How can history hold Trump accountable, when history
can neither subpoena, nor indict, nor prosecute, nor convict, nor sentence, nor
jail Donald Trump. Even Dan Quayle knew that.

While “Accountable” and “Weaponizing” are running neck and neck for the MAW word
abuse prize, remember that their abusers neither know what they are talking
about nor what the words mean. 


1. Impalement: A sharp pole is pushed upwards through the opponent’s body. The pole is then raised upright allowing the victim to slide further down the pole by his own weight.

2. The Breaking Wheel: The opponent’s limbs are tied to the spokes of a large wooden wheel that is slowly revolved while an operator smashes the victims’ limbs with an iron hammer, breaking them in many places. Once his bones are broken, the wheel is placed on a tall pole so birds can pick and eat the flesh of the still-living human. 

Steve Clifford
Steve Clifford
Steve Clifford, the former CEO of KING Broadcasting, has written humor for Crosscut.com and the Huffington Post. He is the author of "The CEO Pay Machine."


  1. Vintage (word used advisably) Steve Clifford. Funny and apt.
    Steve, please add overused and often meaningless phrases to your list. I keep hearing the phrase “on the ground” added to sentences that make sense without the added verbiage. TV anchors ask reporters covering government queries to “tell us what’s happening ‘on the ground.'” The ground is heaped with metaphor.
    It’s almost as bad as when we were suffering from cliched phrase like “tip of the iceberg” and “falling through the cracks.”

  2. What has the world come to, when no one is held accountable for their weaponization of the words “accountable” and “weaponize”? 😉

  3. Steve, a close second is the word “Tranformative”. There is so much transformative everything that we are left dizzy with constant transformation of that which was just transformed.

  4. I’ll be the first to admit I should be the last to comment on other people’s writings. But it seems more writers (and speakers) should stop and read the room before committing to words. And if the room has no signs or posters, maybe just look around and think. Otherwise, they may just come across as performative influencers. Or worse – poseurs.

  5. My sentiments exactly. This word has been driving me crazy. A close second is “impactful” but I am trying hard to make my peace with it.

  6. Two givens, first, our commissars are never held to account. Second, no one ever gets fired (relieved of command).

    At the same time, the three words which are glaringly absent in the public discussion are ‘dishonest, incompetent, and corrupt’ — and, for my part, I assess performance based on those three criteria. Everything else is just noise!


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