Egregious linguistic offenses
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Poughkeepsie, New York is of crucial importance to the preservation of civilization. This is, of course, because Poughkeepsie is the home of Marist College, which every December publishes the results of a poll that determines the most annoying word of the year. The 2017 winner, for the ninth year in a row, was “whatever.” This is the “whatever” muttered dismissively by a sullen co-worker after you’ve offered a correct substitution for his latest bit of misinformation. It’s the same “whatever” that is sighed with hyperbolic exasperation by an insufferable, eye-rolling teenager who’s just been told she must clean her room before going to the mall.
Having considerable fondness and respect for the English tongue, I’ve long been attuned to lexical outrages. For a time I was reduced to hand-wringing despair by the overuse of “awesome.” Everything was awesome. I finally had to start responding. One morning while I was having breakfast at Diamond Jim’s, the twenty-something guy sitting next to me at the counter exclaimed, “Man, these pancakes are awesome!” I, too, am extravagantly fond of Diamond Jim’s pancakes, but this was not the issue at hand. Remediation was required. “No,” I replied. “They are not. Machu Picchu is awesome. Wagner’s Ring Cycle is awesome. The great Serengeti animal migration is awesome. These pancakes are merely delicious.” The bemused fellow seemed disinclined to engage me in further exploration of the topic.
I am also irritated by the use of “no problem” as the standard response to every request made of clerks and waitpersons, usually in circumstances in which there is scant likelihood of any problem arising. Recently at a downtown espresso bar I ordered a Grande Americano.
“No problem,” the perky barista assured me.
This was my third or fourth “no problem” of the day and it was still early. I’m afraid that I snapped. “Really?” I enquired. “Thank God! I would have thought that ordering an Americano in an espresso bar would be a nearly insurmountable problem, a crisis that would have thrown this place into disarray as panicked employees frantically consulted their phones to find out what this arcane beverage might possibly be.”
She looked at me blankly for a moment, then shrugged and said, “Whatever.”
Yet another source of annoyance is the currently voguish overuse of “perfect.” This is also a favorite of waitpersons. When I am informed that my choice of balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing is perfect, I will typically respond by stating that I’m overjoyed that I picked the perfect dressing and will then go on to enquire as to which particular imperfections are to be found within the honey mustard or Italian dressings.
“Perfect” is not limited to the restaurant milieu. When I was having a dental checkup recently the hygienist found that everything I did was perfect. I closed my mouth over the little cardboard x-ray doodad perfectly. I opened wide perfectly. When I raised my tongue to the roof of my mouth as I was instructed, that too was perfect. I thought this might be more praise than I rightfully deserved. It would be, after all, pretty hard to mismanage the raising your tongue. I suppose that if I had stuck my tongue in my cheek, that would not have been perfect, or if I used my tongue to tie a knot in a maraschino cherry stem that, too, would fall short. This was one case, however, in which I did not verbally engage the other person. As pleasant as she was, she still had easy access to various sinister looking little metal probes that she could stab into my gums. I choose my battles wisely.
It’s impressive how many words and phrases are flying around out there that are either inherently annoying or have become so through overuse, such words as tweet, foodie, just sayin’, market solutions, at the end of the day, Kardashian, went viral, bucket list, parenting, gifting, journaling, hashtag, lifestyle, it is what it is, war on Christmas, it’s all good, endangered white male, collateral damage, job creators, artisan, hand-crafted, death tax, a-list, mani-pedi, trigger warning, safe space, play date, National Rifle Association, voter fraud, shopaholic, and Doug Ericksen. I could keep going but there are only so many offensive words that one can suffer through in a single sitting. Besides, I’m almost out of space. As a matter of fact, since I’m allowed a maximum of 750 words for a column, when I finish this sentence if I add just one more word I’ll be at exactly 750. Perfect!