To a wonderful Christmas!
I sometimes fool myself by imagining that I can no longer be shocked by anything I hear, but I am always wrong. Listening to the news is cause for alarm. This morning as I drove to work I heard a radio report that in a recent poll the majority of Americans polled believe that we should stop being “Politically Correct.” That we should be allowed to use whatever language we choose to in any situation.
Well, excuse me! Since when is it considered okay to use words that are offensive to people? Some pompous man calling a group of women “Girls” or a middle class person referring to elderly household help as “the girl,” reveal some attitudes about women and class. Similarly by our word choice there are many ways we can be offensive to people of color and to those whose religious beliefs we do not share. We could fill a book with disparaging terms used to offend, but maybe we should throw that book into the garbage. Is it so hard to choose our words carefully?
Just when the issue of gender and sexuality seems to be making progress, the people in this survey are saying that they are tired of being inclusive, and that the LGBTQ community should just get over themselves and admit they are straight. We now have unisex bathrooms in many public places, and many people I know are claiming their appropriate gender, but I guess it’s too stressful for people to be careful about pronoun use and to label people.
As a former English teacher, language is very important to me. The words we choose say a lot about us. For example, the boys I taught in juvie had ridiculously poor vocabularies. They didn’t know the meaning of commonly used words in English. As I was reading This Boy’s Life to them, I stopped to make sure they were understanding the language. Toby’s horrible step-father stopped on the ride home and went into a tavern. “Who knows the meaning of the word tavern,” I asked. Blank faces until one kid guessed, “Church?”
They most often used four letter words and could manipulate them into any part of speech and also to have opposite meanings. “This is shit” could mean it was bad, or it could mean it was great if they said “This is the shit.” One student who always had a mean expression on his mug became furious with me when I asked him to stop being such a sour puss. He told the social worker that I had called him a pussy. I explained that I never use that word to mean anything but small cats, but he didn’t believe me. He had never heard the expression “sour puss.”
That they were disinterested in growing their vocabularies showed their laziness and anti-intellectualism. Their huge fear was in appearing middle class. But I must hasten to add that they were not alone in being lazy about word choice. Many people just get into word use ruts.
I am not pointing fingers at anyone when I say this, but there are certain words that we need to eliminate from our vocabularies. We simply overuse certain words and expressions and I am a major offender in this practice. My biggest pet peeve right now is the overuse of the word “grab.” People (including me) say that they are going to grab a cup of coffee, grab some lunch, or grab a few items from the grocery store. When I hear the word grab, I imagine someone pushing someone else out of the way and snatching some milk from the dairy case or biting the cork from a bottle and slugging down a quantity of wine. It’s so aggressive and pushy. I still hear my mother’s voice telling me not to grab.
Fabulous and fantastic are also overused to the point that nothing can be just a mediocre idea. If everything is fabulous, what do we call something that is honestly superior? “Oh, that chocolate cake was extra, super fabulous?” Words lose their meaning when they are overused. For example I all-too-often say that things are Great.”
Then there are the space fillers that everyone hates to hear: um, like, and ya’ know. Just take a breath between ideas. Don’t fill these pauses with these annoying repetitions.
On the other end of the spectrum, though, there are words that have a magical effect and should be used with caution. If I am very angry about anything, just uttering “Fuck” makes me release some hostility. I recommend it. If you are extremely peeved, yell it. I promise you will feel better and maybe avoid slapping someone. And perhaps you might just stop grabbing those cups of coffee.
In the words of The Golden Girls, “Everyone talks about an inner child. I have an inner old lady who says inappropriate things and wants to be in bed by 8:00.”