This New Year’s lets resolve to rid the world of these wretched words…
England may have invented, well, the Queen’s English…but their former colonies perfected the art of using said language to avoid saying anything at all. Every generation has its verbal crutches and initially-fresh-but-eventually-flakey slang. I’ve always maintained “bully” morphed from “fine; excellent; very good” to “overbearing person who habitually intimidates the weak” because the latter definition was the result of everyone getting sick of the former, (looking at YOU, Teddy Roosevelt).
And while “here’s your hat what’s your hurry?” “scallywag”, “for Pete’s sake”, and ending each sentence with “see?” reside within the rearview mirror of history… “shade” (and/or throwing it), “I KNOW, right?” and “amaze-balls” deserve similar fates.
This New Year’s lets all resolve to un-friend the verbal diarrhea that’s dirtied up 2015’s discourse. Come to think of it, “un-friend” should probably be on the following list, as well.
“Most native-speaking, high school graduates have a vocabulary of roughly 15 to 20,000 words,” said professor of linguistics at American University and author of Words On Screen: The Fate Reading In A Digital World, Naomi S Baron. “That’s a very limited amount and, as a result, people have to get creative.”
I feel like we’re NOT being creative.
In fact, “I feel like” is my first nominee! This pause du jour for wussies unsure has become the go-to-gap between processing a thought and actually voicing it; a cowardly cushion to statements rarely as edgy as its speakers think they are. IFL abusers are legion within reality, talk and variety shows (talent judges, in particular, looove this blow softener). Perhaps the worst offender is @Midnight host, and Nerdist empire impresario, Chris Hardwick. A recent, unofficial tally of the sensitive podcast host interviewing the equally empathetic Lena Dunham culminated in a grand total of 1,423 egregious uses of IFL. (I feel like I may have made that number up.)
Oh and “so” has gotta go.
The number one “so” sensei is NPR’s Fresh Air host, Terry Gross. So defensive is this so-holic that she recently justified her overuse of the adverb by having a University Of California-Berkley linguist professor come on her program to defend the word (he went as far as to call “so” a “conversational workhorse”!) without ever admitting that she’s the station’s main offender. So’s a fear. This female’s fear. Accepting that? A drop of golden sun. (That will be the only The Sound Of Music reference. Promise.)
(This informal applicator also ushers in other phrases I’m praying for extinction: “not so much” and “so THAT just happened”.)
“We do have some [American Sign Language]-originating ‘crutches,” said ASL Program Coordinator Department of Linguistics University of Pennsylvania, Jami N. Fisher. “One I can think of is analogous to, ‘UM’. It's a kind of wiggling of the fingers as space filler.”
BT-dubs: I blame the LGBT community for our awful “abreves” obsession. As with most cool things, the propensity to shorten words that don’t need shortening (see: “totally”, “whatever” and “obviously” transition into “totes”, “whateves” and “obvs”) began in Chelsea, was co-opted by teenage girls and then bought out by a country too lazy to complete a sentence. It was supes fun in it’s gay heyday but…you guuuuys?....it’s so NOT adorbs now. (Just realized how much I’m also done with “you guuuuys?”).
“We’ve done this forever,” exps (cool-speak for “explained”) professor Baron. “Acronyms, shortened words…it’s never been about saving time or instant messaging, it’s always been about sounding cool or in the know.”
Fifty-percenting speech brings me to “a hundred percent”. This all-in response wrecks havoc with conversations the country over, but is most commonly used by celebrities flattering a journalist so that the anti-Woodward or Bernstein won’t ask a tougher, follow-up question.
“We use hyperbole for all sorts of stuff,” cautioned professor Baron. “Take ‘awesome’. You may reply to me suggesting we meet at Starbucks with ‘awesome!’. How is that awesome? How does that make you feel ‘full of awe’.”
“Literally” literally means nothing anymore. The overuse and misuse of an adverb that literally means “word for word” is legion and oft the tool of those who think Alanis Morissette uses “ironic” correctly.
“Literally is most commonly used by females between the ages of 15 and 30,” said professor Baron. “It goes back decades. ‘Literally exhausted’ or ‘literally pregnant’. Either you are or your not. We’ve literally exhausted a superlative.”
When it’s all said and done (oooh, there’s another one!) maybe I’m just a big fat jerk.
“This is a genre called ‘peevology’”, replied Harvard linguist and author of The Sense Of Style: A Thinking Person’s Guide To Writing In The 21st Century, Steven Pinker, when I emailed him for comment. “A condemnation of certain words and expressions that viscerally offend the author, with little curiosity about their history, meaning, or function is not something that I generally indulge in.”
Initially I found this academic’s resps (cool-speak for “response”) to be totes ridic, but upon further reflection he may have had a point.
“When you think about it,” added professor Baron. “as much as you hate phrases like ‘it is what it is’, it’s just as much about nothing as Walter Cronkite signing off each newscast with ‘that’s the way it is’.
Fair enough. But this won’t stop my campaign to replace old/busted “at the end of the day” with new/hotness “at the beginning of the night”. If you can’t beat ’em…replace ’em.
Post Script: Lets end as we began: with “the blessed isle” yo . Specifically we should replace our tired turns of phrases with charming colloquialisms from across the Atlantic. Brits have playful, Dr. Seussian, words for adult acts: grog, shag, gack and slag sound Green Eggs & Ham friendly…but they ain’t. What they are, with apologies to professor Baron, is awesome. Let’s get this sorted before it all goes pear shaped, mate. END BUG