Just Words

One of my favorite comics recently ran a strip on the topic of a funeral for the word “said.” It’s a word (they insisted) we no longer use and we can thus have a formal ceremony acknowledging its passing. We have thrown it away and now we hear: “I’m like,” and “She goes,” then “he goes,” and Fred’s all like”…. you get the picture.

Another word that seems to have passed away is the word “take.” We used to take things there and bring them here. Now we bring things everywhere. Lazy folks we are. We also find ourselves  “laying around” instead of “lying around.” We forget that “lay” is a transitive verb requiring an object. We lay something or someone, but if I were laying around I would expect to see an egg after I got up — or perhaps a I am a slut! We also can’t tell when to say “I” or “me.” Folks who like to pass themselves off as educated opt for the former in almost all cases so we get things like “It is all the same to Sally and I.” We know this is wrong since if we forgot all about Sally we would get something like “It’s all the same to I.” We know that can’t be right.

But one of the really interesting things is the way we use the word “up” at the end of so many phrases. We say “listen up!” or we say “button up,” or “zip up,” or “shut up,” “heads up,” “back up,” “lock up,” “wake up,” “wait up,” the list goes on. And why? It doesn’t help the meaning any.  Oh yes, there’s another little word that creeps in uninvited from time to time as when we say “It’s not that big of a deal,” when we mean to say “It’s not that big a deal.” The “of” really doesn’t belong. It’s just a waste of words when we could use them wisely elsewhere — as in the case of “take” or “lie.”

And there is another little word that is in danger of disappearing — if the folks at Weather Channel have their way. That’s the word “in.” They simply don’t seem to need it even though they say things like “the weather into Chicago is rather warm today.” I always thought “into” suggested movement, but they seem to think “into” works perfectly well wherever you want to use it, though it makes me a bit nauseated when I hear those “experts” saying it (not nauseous as some would have it. The latter is an adjective and describes such things as odors and sights; the former is an adverb and works well to describe feelings. Sheldon Cooper pointed that out to his friends on “The Big Bang” several years ago).

My problem is that I hang out with a good friend who teaches English to undergraduates. We tend to cry in our G&Ts about the sorry state of language in this country (not to mention politics). But, these are just words and I am being a pedant — knowing that no one likes a pedant. Sorry. Its tiresome, though, reading and writing about Donald Trump so much  — who is verbally challenged, to say the least, and it makes me feel a bit nauseated to think of him.

In the end, however, we do need words to communicate and if everyone is playing a different language game it makes communication impossible. This would be a serious problem if people were listening to one another, but since that doesn’t seem to be happening much any more perhaps I am simply spitting into the wind ….. again.


15 thoughts on “Just Words

  1. It is actually quite maddening listening to folks these days. One that makes me nuts is sports related. Why do players have good (or poor) “at bat”s? Turn at bat, time at bat, ok. Ahhhhh

  2. I sometimes have difficulties with some of these, but my chief proof-reader (and best friend) always, always catches my errors, though sometimes not until hours after I published a post. He says my misuse of the apostrophe, especially, sets of his internal PacMan and makes him crazy! I natter at him, but am lucky to have somebody to go behind me and clean up my messes 🙂 Grammar was never my strong suit!

  3. As a teacher of English to foreign students, I feel at times at the forefront of these problems. I know the rules, and see the blatant mistakes, but as they are made by native speakers, it is very hard to explain why my students should not copy what they read or hear. I recently had a colleague, another English teacher, point out that the British will occasionally use the plural for “the United States” (in magazines like “The Economist”). And, here in France at least, the British are held as the ultimate authority on all things English. It is becoming increasingly hard to demand that my students say or write “there are two reasons” when every newscaster and most people say and write “there is two reasons”, to give just one telling example of many. Forget trying to explain things like “It was she”.

    • I cannot imagine trying to teach English to foreign students — even before it degenerated to the present point. My hat is off to you and I can only say “the best of luck.”

  4. Newspapers have long taught that when someone is quoted, the attribution should only use the word “said,” never something such as “commented,” “explained,” “exclaimed,” etc. Said is a simple, neutral word, and it puts the burden on the reporter to give its emotion context — use an appropriate quote and a reader should be able to tell if they are explaining, excited, shouting, crying. The other synonyms you mention — “he goes,” “he’s like…” — seem an interesting mix. “He goes” just seems lazy. “He’s like,” almost seems as if the speaker is trying to intuit and then interpret Fred’s emotions as they re-quote him instead of breaking Fred’s quote into two sentences. “Fred was angry with me. He said, ‘you idiot, look what you did.'”

    As I read a Hemingway biography, I am reminded of how beautiful the English language can be when it is used carefully. The simplest words can carry the strongest force. But it is, as others have mentioned, a mess of a language overall. And it is ever-evolving, idioms from one era giving way to those of another, word use and definition shifting over decades, centuries. But it would be nice if the evolution brought the language up, rather than into the land of “he goes,” “meh,” “the Johnson’s have four dogs.” Oh, really? The “Johnson’s” what, exactly, has four dogs — their house, kennel, children?


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