Monday, September 24, 2007

Word For Word

I’m not sure what made me suddenly realize it – maybe it was a bad movie (so many of them are), or a stupid TV show (is that redundant?), or surfing the too-often-mediocre waves of the worldwide yada-yada, but it suddenly hit me that the American vocabulary is being reduced to a handful of dull words, dumb phrases and clumsy constructs.

To wit (or lack of it), it is almost impossible to hear or read today’s language without being assaulted by innumerable repetitions of: like, wow, do, OMG (or the full OhMyGod), so, totally, man, fat, thick, ugh!, dude, bitch, all, shit, buzz, fuck, shut the fuck up, really, what up, word, buff, baby bump, way/no way, retro, up (as in: “this dude was all up in my face”), out (as in: “change this out”), hottie, amazing, fug, signify, represent, WTF, LOL, IMO, BTW and all the other texting abbreviations. There is, of course, the ubiquitous whatever, hello and duh! and, leading the pack, the now-rendered-meaningless icon and awesome. The controversial nigga still abounds, but I prefer that to the infantile N-word. And I don’t care what anyone sez (er, says…), there is no car, no item of clothing, no post-adolescent hunk that is to die for.

As if this weren’t enough to give one, like, pause, there is the matter of contractions (the kind that don’t precede childbirth). You’re seems to be dying a fairly swift death replaced by your for all occasions, while its, dont, cant, wont, etc., have been stripped of their apostrophes. under the heading “type faster, not smarter,” everywhere i look, people are writing entirely in lower-case letters – not as an homage to e.e. cummings, as was the case in the 60s, but because they’re too lazy to periodically press the Shift key. Re-reading the previous sentence, I’m reminded that the distinctions among there, their and they’re are becoming a dim memory and too is apparently too much trouble to be bothered with, to.

Malapropisms are making a big come-back, even though few people know what a malapropism is anymore or recognize one when they hear it. Not long ago, I heard a woman compliment another by telling her she was “just superfluous” and another woman describe her kitchen as the hub-bub of her home. Indeed, a house has become a home and even when walls and doors are involved, we no longer have rooms, we have areas.

Furthermore, when it comes to fashion and interior design, we no longer have colors and fabrics, we have colorations and fabrications – adding confusion to insult and injury, since people want their homes to have a classic contemporary look filled with casual elegance. I call this the jumbo baby shrimp devolution of American English. The only new phrase in the décor vocabulary I really like is mid-century modern, since it refers to the 50s and 60s, which is where I am firmly and unapologetically rooted. I am not a 21st century person!

I know language is a living thing that must change as cultures change; I know that for hundreds of years, the printing press has made language more stable for much longer than it ever was before and that it’s reasonable for digital technology to have its own impact now. But I love language, its nuances and subtleties and variety, and seeing it truncated in a charmless way as an ode to ignorance and speed just breaks my heart.

Finally, there is this: we seem to have dispensed with the past tense. Apparently, past is just too old to deal with. So we end up hearing a mixed tense that I don’t know the name of (but which makes me tense) that goes like this: Jennifer and Sean were so totally bummed out by their parents’ reaction to their marriage that they steal Sean’s dad’s car and drive out west. They stay with Sean’s friend Brad in Denver and Sean gets a job waiting tables in a ski lodge while Jennifer finds herself behind the fryer at Burger King. What the hell is this called – and how can we kill it?

It looks like having a passion for Harry Potter hasn’t been enough to make kids want to read anything else, and their older siblings (as well as their folks) don’t read anything more challenging than fanzines and tabloids. As a writer and a reader, I am way dismayed. If I knew how, I’d give it all the bomb.


Carolyn J. said...

I'm always surprised to meet someone who doesn't read anything, but it happens an awful lot. No book, magazine, blog or cereal box is enough to hold their attention.

Recently a coworker was at home with an injury, begging to come back to work because he was bored. "Don't you have anything to read?" I said. "Pfffhfhhbt", he said.

Anonymous said...

I have tears, happy tears, in my tired eyes. I should be sleeping but I am, again, wandering within your musings. Another soul who knows her they'res, theres, and theirs? Too wonderful! --diana