Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Art of Speaking Badly

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 25, 2021] ©2021

It’s time for another episode of Auntie Inga’s Geriatric Curmudgeon Hour, Language Edition. So much to complain about, so little time.

Our first topic is the frightening disappearance of the letter “t” in spoken English. You hear it – or should I say, don’t hear it? – everywhere these days, including and especially from announcers in the “Alana” airport in Georgia.  A physician in a TV ad insists it’s “imporan” to continue with regular screenings. Newscasters lament that it is unknown when “elemenary” schools will re-open.  During the election, we heard about “independen voers.” 

I’m officially launching a grassroots campaign to “Save the T!”  Yes, it was included in the “alphabeh” for a reason! 

You should definitely be worried about the contagion of language aberrations. They can spread even faster than Covid, as has been evidenced by “vocal fry,” a low gravelly vibration also known as the Verbal Tic of Death.  Kim Kardashian (and sibs) have popularized this plague which makes your speech sound like you ran your vocal chords over a food grater. Alas, it has been widely copied by young persons who don’t seem to realize they are limiting their career choices to the fast food industry.

Phrases suddenly seem to appear from nowhere and become part of …everywhere.  For example, children are no longer referred to as “kids” but as “kiddos.”  “Prices” are now “price points.”  Loving or hating someone has been expanded to “loving on” [someone] or “hating on” [someone.]  Sorry, sweetie, he just hates you, pure and simple.

But I’m encouraged that some of the past few years’ most overused phrases seem to be waning, like “wheelhouse,” “big girl panties,” “hot mess,” “I’m all about,” and my least favorite, “pop.” 

When I heard someone say that a particular color of eye shadow made her eyes pop or a certain piece of furniture made the room pop, it made ME pop, but not the same way. Apparently, there was nothing that could not pop.  But things do seem to be popping less.  And I thank you.

Language, as we know, is constantly evolving. The use of “good” and “well” are perfect examples as in the preponderance of the phrase “You did good” which should be “You did well.”  My high school English teacher would be rising out of her grave at an adjective being used as an adverb but my kids’ teachers all said it routinely. One of my sons sent me an article recently saying “you did good” is in such common usage that it can now be considered “correct.” The attached note read: “Mom: sorry this had to happen in your life time.”

Ditto “fewer” (not as many) vs. “less” (not as much). If you can actually count it (think cookies), it’s fewer.  If you can’t count it (like milk), it’s less. At the grocery store, it’s all I can do not to whip out my felt tip marker and stealthily change the sign to “10 items or fewer.”  #grammarterrorist

And about those adjectives…and adverbs and nouns and verbs.  While parts of speech were fundamental to elementary school curricula in my youth, I find that the eyes of people under 50 tend to glaze over at the mere mention of them. Maybe it doesn’t even matter anymore. 

But sometimes it does.  A while back, I wrote a line in my column about how my first mother-in-law always referred to me in the third person and without conjunctions as in: “Ask the shiksa she wants dessert.”  The proofreader added the word “if” – a conjunction – changing the sentence to “Ask the shiksa if she wants dessert” and making the line non-sensical. I queried the change (this stuff makes me absolutely nuts) only to learn that he had no idea what a conjunction was. (They connect sentences). Just not taught anymore, I guess.

Meanwhile, my husband Olof has his own language challenges.  As a former Air Force pilot, he used the NATO alphabet system – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, etc. – and employs it to this day when needing to spell out things like email addresses to someone on the phone. 

Not long ago, however, I overheard him try this with a young customer service agent who was completely confused by it.  “Huh?” she said, “Charlie? I thought your name was Olof? Who’s this Sierra? What do you mean, ‘Tango’? Can we go back to English?”

I was nearly falling out of my chair laughing.  There was a pause, and Olof began again. “C as in cat, S as in Sam, T as in Tom.” 

When he hung up, he commented tersely, “I think I’ve outlived my time.”

OK, so the NATO alphabet and parts of speech may have gone to the big recycle bin in the sky along with the bible of my college career, Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” 

But please, can we bring back “t” before it’s too late?  It’s just really imporan. Especially in Alana.



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