Thursday, 7 April 2011

Some Words About Words...

Originally published February 10, 2011...

Hello Friends.

Sarah Palin is credited with coining the term “refudiate” which was named Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. First of all, I didn’t know NOAD had a Word of the Year. Is there a televised ceremony like the Oscars (“You know, “word” is a word thrown around a lot these days, but our next five nominees…”)? Secondly, “refudiate” isn’t a word, it’s the misuse of two words (“refute” and “repudiate”) and it doesn’t mean anything. NOAD disagreed, and credited Palin accordingly, who took to her Twitter in response (like any great thinker), writing: “English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!” Do we, Sarah? Do we got to?

I’m so glad I write, speak and kind of know English. Linguists say with all the exceptions to our language rules (i before e, daughter should sound like laughter, pluralized goose is geese but pluralized moose isn’t meese), English is the most difficult language to learn. I swell with pride when I hear statements like that and think, “I’ve been speaking English practically since I was six.” But there are ever-present threats to our spoken and written language. Threats that, should we continue to ignore them, will reduce language as we know it to grunting and texting. Not on my watch!

Dream: Call attention to various language infractions in an attempt to eliminate them. Any residual feelings of superiority over others is merely a side-effect.

Goal: Unachievable. Language lovers are a dying breed, seems to me. People are reluctant to reproduce with someone who will say, “Of course you can touch me there, but you may not touch me there.” Kills the mood. But here’s my attempt anyhow.

Plan: Identify today’s most common language infractions, like:

Hyperbole. I think this is mostly a young person’s issue, but I hear grown-ups using these expressions too. For instance, I hear, “I love so-and-so to death” all the time, and it’s usually followed by a qualifier indicating that this person does not love so-and-so to death as they claim. For instance, I overheard two friends talking about a guy they knew and one girl said, “I mean, I love him to death but I just can’t hang out with him anymore!” Girls, if I loved someone to death, I’d probably hang out with them a bit. These are the same young persons who will have a conversation thusly:

Friend 1: The other day I saw James wearing a bathing suit.
Friend 2: Ugh, I just threw up in my mouth.

You didn’t just throw up in your mouth! Okay? You didn’t! The thought of James in a bathing suit might have temporarily disgusted you but it didn’t cause bile to rise in your throat and pool in your mouth. While we’re at it, can we eliminate the expression, “Wrong on so many levels?” What I suppose originally started as a phrase to indicate offence at several things going wrong at the same time (say a cyclist riding without a helmet the wrong way down a one way street while offering drugs to a child), it has now become a catch-all phrase for anything bad. Also, The Gong Show was a terrible mid-seventies game show where people won prizes, it wasn’t your shift at work, or your family reunion, or the lineup at the bank. None of those things was a gong show.

Me, myself and I. I was watching some awards show recently and when accepting his award, some actor said he would give the award to his supportive parents saying, “So you can see this every day and see what you made possible for myself.” I appreciate the sentiment, but what you mean to say is, “made possible for me.” There’s a deejay on in Regina every morning who always says, “come on down and visit Lori and myself” or some variation thereof, and my mother and I would yell at the car radio, “Lori and me! Visit Lori and me!” Jon loves that show Judge Judy, but will only watch it when I’m out of the house or asleep, as per my explicit wishes. Anyway, I woke up to her shrieking the other day. A defendant was saying, “He approached the car to talk to my girlfriend and me.” And Judy got all shrill and interjected, “My girlfriend and I.” Clearly torn between his desire to please the court but also maintain the English language he just said, “I’m sorry?” and she said, “My girlfriend and I!” again, all huffy. He just kept going, rather than repeat himself, because he was right in the first place. He could say, “My girlfriend and I talked to the plaintiff” and that would be right, but when he said “approached the car to talk to my girlfriend and me” he was also right, and Judy had to stick her judgemental nose in there and correct an error that didn’t exist!

I could go on and on here. I could talk about the utter uselessness of the phrase, “It is what it is” which everybody says in every situation like it’s so profound, but really how often is it not what it is? Ever? I could talk about the way we’ve bastardized English on Facebook, like how “I found that funny” was replaced by “lol” which has now been replaced by “Bahaha!” or how people use sentence fragments to indicate how important something is but really This. Must. Stop. But I’m not going to do that. I fear that if I come down too hard on misuse of language, someone smarter than me will look through this blog and see all the errors I commit every week. How I pretentiously use expressions like, “I fear that” instead of “I’m afraid that” when I should probably use neither because I’m not actually afraid. That every blog follows more or less the same formulaic pattern of “Baseless statement. Anecdote. Obscure reference. Thesis (wildly digressive parenthetical statements throughout which ruin sentence-structure). Sentence fragment. Sentence fragment. Sentence fragment. Repetition of obscure reference to give the reader a false sense of closure.” But nobody has called me out on that stuff yet, so maybe I’ll keep my mouth shut when I witness another terrible language infraction, and I’ll be allowed to keep blogging, despite my own shortcomings with English. It’s the only language I know. Got to celebrate it!

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