Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Please put these words in mothballs

Every few years, a word or phrase takes the country by storm, followed shortly thereafter by a national puking-fest caused by buzzword overuse.  I mean, dialing back to the 1970s, who can forget J.J.'s tagline, "Dy-No-MITE!"  It was funny the first few times, but somewhere between 20 repetitions and infinity-squared repetitions, most of us ceased to experience side-splitting mirth.  A few others that have gone by the wayside unmourned include:

"Well, ex-CUUUUUUSE ME!"
"Don't have a cow, man."
"It's all good."
and anything followed by "...not."

I could go on, but thankfully, someone else did,and that someone published a darn good book called Literally, the Best Language Book Ever: Annoying Words and Abused Phrases...by Paul Yeager, just to give credit where credit is due.  Please read it for a humorous yet scholarly treatment of the subject.  My treatment is completely subjective and superficial.

However, my kids and their generation have co-opted a few words that I would like to take back out of slang and reinstate in the proper-usage category.  Unfortunately, once the kids have begun to think the word "fail" is funny, it is hard to use "fail" to invoke shame or inspire motivation.  Once a good, useful word has been trivialized in the vernacular, it's hard to recapture its precise meaning.

Yes, that lowly word "fail" is a buzzword for...I'm not sure what, really.  If Camille makes a lame joke at the dinner table, Mary Kathleen is sure to mutter "fail" as a response, resulting in a burst of laughter which could have easily sufficed for the original joke.  And I see that I resorted to "lame" to describe a joke rather than someone whose movement is hindered.  Am I also doomed to unwittingly abuse Mother English?

Another word they bandy about is "epic."  If I ask, "How was the exam?", I'll probably hear, "It was epic - I got a 97."  Homer would curse such mindless usage (not Homer Simpson, Camille).  And if you were to get a score of 57 on that test, your response would be, "Epic fail."  I'm hoping that epic has a short life as a buzzword.  A recently released-movie had the tagline "An epic movie of epic epicness," which leads me to believe that even Hollywood recognizes the overuse and wants to move on.

"Random" has become a term of endearment.  If my daughters call someone "random," it is intended as high praise.  "My friend Hildegaard is so random - she's epic!"  So much for the mathematical connotation.  If you blurt out amazing comments that are not relevant to what is going on, and use song lyrics to answer in algebra class, well, "you rock!" (oops - another phrase I'd like to stamp out).  I really liked it when "random" meant random.  Let them use "quirky" or "addled" and leave random to the statisticians.

Before I forget, I'm also ready to retire "dude."  For the record, the only person I ever want to call me "dude" is Matthew McConaughey (under any circumstances whatsoever).  Grown women who call me "dude" need to change it up...let's try "ma'am."  It preserves the distinction of rank and allows all my younger friends to make me feel old. Children who call me "dude" are guaranteed a minimum of 30 minutes of being completely ignored.

Awesome has become the word America can't live without.  I would love to start a campaign to outlaw "cool" and "awesome" as acceptable one-word answers.  I am guilty of falling back on "awesome" when I'm not really listening, or no other suitable comment occurs to me.  But you can really appreciate the "epicness" of the problem when you spend five minutes on facebook.  Just choose any photo album or video clip and read the comments.  "Awesome" not only describes Alaskan glaciers, beautiful sunsets and miraculous survival stories, but you'll also find it describing the capacity of Huggies diapers, a cat flushing the toilet, the special effects in the new Harry Potter movie and the beating of a protester at a Rand Paul rally.  I think it's fair to say that we should either retire "awesome" or reserve it for experiences that inspire true awe in us.  ("Good luck with that," I hear you saying...)

I wonder what it says about our society that many words have been adapted to allow for exaggeration or to convey extremeness. For example, why do people use "emo" so much?  "Emo," I've been told, is a shortened form of "emotional," but refers to someone who is very depressed or suicidal.  Do today's teenagers have that many situations that necessitate the description "emo?"  I hope not.  Likewise, my daughters could not hold a conversation without the words "overly" and "insanely."  Boys are insanely annoying, and a stuck locker door is overly frustrating.  Although I have tried to emphasize precision in word choice in rearing these girls, it appears I have failed epicly.

I hope we can retire some of these words, pack them in mothballs for a few decades and let a future generation discover them anew in their non-slang form.  I'd like to feel nostalgic for the word "random."  I'd like to reminisce about the days when "epic" referred to a disaster movie with an all-star cast or a book over one thousand pages. I'd like for everyone who still says "boo-ya" or "freakin" to to be selectively pelted by killer asteroids.  Dude, that would be awesome!

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