A Dose of Language

I began thinking about language in depth once my English teacher pointed out and had us discuss a certain quote from The Chosen (Chaim Potok), a book we’ve started reading in class. As geeky as I am risking sounding, I actually took something away from that class. The quote is from a boy’s description of his father who mainly does not talk to him except when studying the Talmud – they are Hasidic Jews – and says this:

…He [his father] says that words distort what a person really feels in his heart…He told me once he wishes everyone could talk in silence.

In some ways, I agree. Forming language into exactly what is going on inside is very difficult. The class discussed that many words lost their meanings long ago and aren’t like they used to be. Words like “I’m sorry” and “Good morning” are phrases we use to be polite, but do they mean anything anymore? More often than not, they do not. It’s hard to express an apology – a sincere apology – without sounding generic. Even with elaborate actions, the phrase will not warrant serious forgiveness, depending on the severity of what one is apologizing for. It’s quite depressing to think that some words are hollow and empty, no matter what their dictionary definition. I was appalled when this was first mentioned during class, but I realized there was a great deal of truth in that idea. The same thought applies to “thanks” and “please”. Remember when you were a little kid and you forgot to say please? And the adults would ask for the magic word? Yes, that alerted us to be “polite” and say please, but didn’t we only say it to get what we wanted? I know it may have stuck now – I say please! – but it is a habit, as with “thank you”. I will admit that “thank you” is just something that slips right out of my mouth before I can think about it. How meaningful is this example exchange?

“Could you scoot in so I can get by?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Almost zero meaning. I know that it is a simple task of letting someone by, but this often happens without the traveler and scooter making eye contact, gesturing, thinking, really.

Now, in other ways, I was completely dumbfounded with my English teacher’s declaration that putting thoughts into words is very, very difficult, often meaningless, and not taken seriously. I wanted to stand on my chair and proclaim my absolute adoration for words! That I maintain a blog full of well-put thoughts! That I take my language extremely seriously! I carefully read the books I choose (right now, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith – I am in love with Old English-type writing.) and listen attentively to the words I hear, especially when sung in songs. I make an effort for the sake of language.

I don’t particularly understand the “talking in silence” bit of the quote. He must really dislike communication. I could never give up aloud-communication. Especially since I am a fan of music. I forget what was discussed of this bit of the quote in class, but I do love me some communication. I may seem quiet, but I am secretly extremely flattered when I am chosen to be spoken to. Talk about finding something nice in everything…

But, I know exactly how language has lost some meaning. So I comprised a list of the meaningless words I hear so many times a day that I begin counting every time I hear them. This counting somewhat takes away from actually listening to, paying attention, comprehending and understanding what the person is saying, like the good student I am, but over-using (WAY over-using) words in one’s sentences makes me bored, makes one’s ramblings seem disposable and meaningless (you see how many times I am using that word? It is for emphasis – I am not being a hypocrite) and I, frankly, don’t care what he or she has to say. Often times, I begin to lose track of what I am hearing because his or her thought is interrupted and broken up so frequently with reoccurring words! However, I have kept you waiting patiently for my grand list of annoying words.

Please do not bother using these:

  • “Like.” You had better known I was going to list this one. I hate to say it, but I do use this one a lot. And I feel so ashamed of it. I, thank Heaven above, don’t use this in my writing, but it has unfortunately become a struggle to delete this word from my immediate vocabulary. Sure, I will accept saying it in similes and comparing things – for example: “That person’s hair is like the flame-inspired faux-hawk I sported last month!” or “The drummer’s playing sounded like someone dropped a 3-ton load of metal dental tools and large chunks of wood from the sky onto the nearest patch of pavement – not good.” On the contrary, this will not be accepted: “Like, I had that same hair style, like, last month!” or “My ears were, like, bleeding from his playing. I couldn’t, like, bear it anymore.” The worst struggle against “like” is in the dialogue we tell so often: “And he was like, “Go away!” and I was like, “I thought you liked me,” and Mom was like, “Shut the heck up, I can barely think with all your yapping!”” I fight this urge as best I can, but it wins too frequently. I think most of this is due to the uncertainty of what was actually said, so we say “like” to shorten “it was along the lines of…” I definitely believe it is the new “Um”, too. I think my dad mentioned this before: silence, when you are concocting a new thought, sounds and is generally much more intelligent than filling the time up with nonsense words. Silence is also quite powerful, but, holy crap, is that a rant for another time. Either way, let’s make a deal: “like” is annoying, so we’ll both avoid it. Right.
  • “Awesome.” Dear God, this is terrible. It is probably the absolute worst adjective I can think of right now. It is so lame, that if I were a teacher and I read another sentence such as “I wore my new, awesome sneakers to the mall” I would go insane with my stapler and letter-opener and any other dangerous office tool on that essay like there was no tomorrow. Awesome used to mean “great” or “impressive”, for example: “The awesome force of the tsunami wave and earthquake devastated Japan”. No one, of course, uses it that way except educational science videos. If you think about it, “awesome” has the word “awe” right there, so unless the thing you are describing conjures some awe, there is no real reason to describe it like that – save for if you are a liar. If I am told “Wow, that was awesome!” I wonder if it really means anything. Or they are just filling up some silence with thoughtless thoughts. Hmm. The only exception to excessive use of “awesome” is a blog I came across called “1000 Awesome Things”. The author talks about little bits of awesome that aren’t normally perceived as awesome but really do make people happy. They make me happy, despite the over-used adjective.
  • “No problem.” It seems harmless enough, right? Not to me! I sort of don’t have a legitimate reason for disliking this phrase, but it comes across as lazy. I prefer the traditional “you’re welcome” and the occasional “you’re very welcome”. It also just seems random, unrelated. I don’t know, whatever. Think what you will.
  • “What’s up?” / “‘Sup?” Honestly, when someone asks this, there is an enormous chance the size of the planet Jupiter that the asker doesn’t care at all. Yes, I spice it up a bit with “what’s crackin?”, “how’s it going?”, “what’s happening?” or “what’s going on?” and more, but they are all kind of pointlessly said. Normally, if I am initiating a texting conversation (when this is usually asked) it starts with a question I am looking for an answer to. Not to say I don’t care what people are up to at times, but I only really ask when I care. Gosh, am I being blunt today…
  • “Amazing.” This goes a bit hand-in-hand with “awesome” but I decided to break the two lazy adjectives up for a breather for your benefit. Although, this word can really be used genuinely easier than “awesome”, like “You look amazing tonight” rather than “You look awesome tonight”, I still hear it way too often. If I heard, “You look gorgeous/memorable/lovely/*speechless*” it would please me more than “you look amazing.” I mean, I will take any compliment, but I think too much, and that gets in the way of appreciating the overused words.
  • Curse words. Yes, they are not “appropriate”. Yes, they hurt people’s feelings when they are used that way. Blah, blah, blah. They really lose their meaning once you enter middle school. The “f” word is the new *insert any angry adjective here* and it precedes every word you hear. It’s, to be very, very, VERY blunt, LA-A-AME. C’mon, guys. I know almost everyone can enjoy a bit of risky language here and there, and as a language-loving writer, I find them sometimes appropriate to express characters’ thoughts (probably to the dismay of my parents, however I don’t really use them at all out loud) and they are funny in some contexts, but in the mouths of teens and especially tweens, they are horrendously BORING. Plus, like with “like”, they sort of make one sound, dare I say, stupid. Is that all you can say? The “f” word? “F-you” is thrown around so much that people can easily brush it off without taking what it means into consideration. Because it doesn’t mean much. Unless you don’t say it much. Other words such as the “s” word, “d” word, “a” word, (I hope you still follow) etc. are close behind. Curse words pollute our daily vocabularies only because they are not used with caution and, I hate to say it, care. If your curses are well placed, they will get your point across very quick. Why do you think they are found in many novels? They are somewhat useful – they are words, after all. Otherwise, ya kinda just sound dumb. Oh well!
  • “Crazy.” So many better, more colorful words out there. Here is an entry on thesaurus.com:
Main Entry: crazy
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: mentally strange
Synonyms: ape, barmy, bats in the belfry, batty, berserk, bonkers*, cracked, crazed, cuckoo, daft, delirious, demented, deranged, dingy*, dippy, erratic, flaky, flipped, flipped out, freaked out, fruity, idiotic, insane, kooky, lunatic, mad, mad as a March hare, mad as a hatter, maniacal, mental*, moonstruck, nuts, nutty, nutty as fruitcake, of unsound mind, out of one’s mind, out of one’s tree, out to lunch, potty, psycho, round the bend, schizo, screw loose, screwball, screwy, silly, touched*, unbalanced, unglued, unhinged, unzipped, wacky
Antonyms: balanced, realistic, reasonable, responsible, sane, sensible, smart
  • “Love.” (the romantic kind. Gosh, you’d think I’d bash friend-love? and family-love? That stuff is way different, man!) I know this a touchy subject. However, I feel like if there are real feelings around the words “I love you”, it will be pretty meaningful. But, teens seem to throw it around on a whim and it doesn’t sound very genuine. I mean, eighth grade? Ninth grade? Sure, an “I really like you” or even “You’re the most fantastic person I ever met”, or something like that is permissible. (“No one talks like that, Sam!!” you say? “Smart people do,” I reply, “i.e. myself.”) I can’t speak for everyone in saying that “I love you” is a bit much for 15 and unders, but really? In love at 12? I doubt it. Maybe dating is fun (how would I know?) but I’m almost certain “I love you” is kind of serious stuff…

4 thoughts on “A Dose of Language

  1. IT IS BATS IN THE BELFRY how similar we are. Pure SCHIZO, I say! Not only do I also count how many times “like” appears in an innocent set of bystanders’ conversations, but I TOO started over-thinking about language (and from ENGLISH CLASS! How out of one’s tree!) Think about it, dude: what if we didn’t have written words? Only our mouth-communication? And would that affect us minimally, or would it totally change our lines of thinking (since we couldn’t picture the written word in our brains). I have some words I believe are overused: “ridiculous” ; “insane” ; “yeah”. I especially hate “yeah”, how hard is it to say yes??? Well, this comment is rambling, so bye!

    • Gosh, I know. Thanks for the comment! Rambling comments are quite alright, little madamoiselle! I don’t know what the world would be like without the written word, but language might not have much grammar for the lack of seeing the language on paper. I imagine there probably wasn’t much along the lines of grammar until we wrote it all down. Yes, I am declaring writers a push in the evolution of language!
      Ridiculous used to be a funny and creative adjective but now I don’t think it really is; especially when people say “ridonkulous” or whatever.
      Insane is now used like “sick-nasty”. Doesn’t make much sense at all.
      And, yeah is pretty bad. But I say it even more than “like”. Oops!

      • I say yeah waaay too excessively. But I have realized another weird meaning for “like” : saying you “like” someone doesn’t mean that you appreciate their company or enjoy their personality; it means you’re hopelessly in love. I don’t get it! We need to use a word to take the place of “like” in that sense. Whatever happened to “admire”? Gosh.

      • I think it is short for “I have a crush on…” which is hopelessly LAME (I use “lame” a lot but it has gone out of style and I am bringin’ it back!). However, what else can ya say? But it does get annoying when I say “I like so-and-so” and I get an “Ew, really?!” and I must explain that I am simply expressing my general satisfaction with their company – NOT unbridled love and secret admiration for so-and-so.

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