Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On changing language

JAN: Everyone likes to complain about how the language is going down hill. How young people maul it, changing the meanings etc. I, for one, always grumble about the overuse of "what's up?"

It drives me crazy when I answer the phone and my daughter asks: What's up? I inevitably respond: I don't know, you called me. This is because I think "What's up?" should be a response, not a salutation.

I'll also never really like the ever-ready "sweet" and "sick" But I'm not here to complain. I want to point out the changes in the language I do like.


It's not a change in pronunciation, but a definite shift in emphasis. It's not really?? As in I'm semi-amazed. It's Real-y, as in I'm going to subtly suggest that you think about what you just said. THere seems to be a hole in your logic, I'm going to give you a moment to see that.

This is used, okay overused, as a superlative and supposedly comes from gamers (as in video-gamers.) Often heard: "That's Epic," I find the very enormity of the overstatement appealing.

When my son wanted to convey to my daughter that he really liked the girl he was seeing and now it was "serious," he said, "I guess I'm wifed up." The reason I found this interesting, rather than say, sexist, or demeaning to wives, was because he was happy about it. He also immediately added, "Just like you." (She's got a long term boyfriend.) Making the term non-gender related.

My bad
This is hardly new, but lately, I've been thinking how much I Iike this expression. By saying "My bad," you are not just accepting blame, you are acknowledging and reiterating a very important point: hey, we all make mistakes, this just happens to be mine.

Glamazon Barbie
My daughter uses this to refer to young women her age who go for the sexy-but-stupid look. It always makes me chuckle.

RO: I can't say "sweet" in today's usage with a straight face. I would feel like my mother saying "far out."

Wifed up..never heard that...is that the suburban version of mobbed up or lawyered up? If I didn't spend most of my days sitting in front of a computer talking to myself I might be more au courant. I can't remember the last sort of hip phrase that I truly adopted.

JAN: I think it's the college version.....

HANK: That's "sick"--meaning good--I don't get it. And yes, RO, I agree, sweet has passed us by. Happily. Even the people who say it somehow sound phony. (Oh, is phony passe?)

Cougar? Shall we discuss and dismiss?

And what happened with "good'?: How are you? Good! That seems to be completely socially acceptable. It's wrong, right?

And Jan, I often hear that new-ish use of reee--ly. Like (oops) a thoughtful response. And yes, it works.

JAN: Yes, Hank, I forgot about cougar. It so adeptly conveys aggression. I put that in the "good terminology" department.

RHYS: Sorry, but I can't stand My Bad. The grammarian in me shouts "My bad what?"
I realize that my language will never be hip. I didn't say "Far out" when it was in. I felt stupid saying "cool". So it's lucky I write historical novels where my protagonists can say things like "spiffing, and topping and Rah-ther!"
(Not that I ever said those either) but then I've only just found out who Lady Ga Ga is so I'm probably a hopeless case.

JAN: Except for the Glamazon Barbie outfits, I like Lady Ga Ga. What a voice!!

Please tell us your favorite new expression of use of language, and come back tomorrow when I interview Paula Munier, who co-authored a hysterical new book, Hot Flash Haiku.


  1. I don't get out enough to pick up on the new terminology. I think "my bad" is the "newest" one I know. Do you think "groovy" will ever come back?

  2. Hi Terry,
    You know I could never say groovy with a straight face. I think because I may have first heard it on television. I think Tommy Smothers used to say it a lot with a goofy expression.

    SImilarly, I could never refer to pot as "grass." Or cocaine as "snow." Maybe again because they used that terminology on TV.

    (you might be wondering why I even had cause to use those terms....)

    The only reason I get to pick up new terminology is because of have kids now in their early twenties. One of the benefits of having weathered their teenage years.

  3. I still say cool and hip. Call me a dinosaur - I don't care. I think they're perennials.
    I just had a character say "Shut up" as in "no way." Don't know if that will make the final cut but it's what came out of her mouth.

  4. Ro,
    I think you are right, cool and hip are perennials. I think they started during the beatnik era, didn't they?? As opposed to the hippy era.

    I like shut-up used as "no way," maybe because you can never really say shut-up otherwise (unless you are yelling at the dog, and even then it sounds so mean.)

  5. The one that drives my husband crazy is "whatever."
    I must say I delight in using it if he is being annoying about something and won't see my point of view.

  6. My eighty year old uncle even says, "sweet."

    This week I heard some (to me) new terminology: "hep-C" for hepatitis C.

    I love to browse through slang dictionaries.

  7. Hi Judy,

    My daughter tells me that urbandictionary.com is the place to go!!

  8. I was just in a meeting where a producer---describing someone who had really pulled off a great move--said: "It was really clutch."

    I said--huh? And she said--and this is her description:

    Its like--If someone sends you to buy doughnuts, and you get the last one, and you get back and say, whoa, I got you the last doughnut! The person might say--oh, thanks, that was really clutch!

    And now you know...

  9. Oh, I love whatever. You can use it so many ways!

  10. I forgot about CRUSH, which Hank's Clutch reminded me of.

    My kids say: Oh I totally CRUSHED that class (meaning I studied hard enough), that workout (sweat profusely) or that Job interview!

  11. feeling (or feelin', as pronounced in actual usage)
    "I'm not feelin' study hall today. Let's hit the mall instead."

    also used to indicate empathy, as in, "Dude, I had that same stomach flu last week, so I feel you..."

    At first I always goofed it up: "Yeah, I feel your pain." or "I feel for you." Now, I've caught on, though. eh. It's okay; I've been assimilated. (or, to use an expression I loathe for its meaninglessness, "It is what it is." WHAT is what it is? LOL)


  12. Carla, that's hilarious... Did you watch The Wire?

  13. Carla,
    I'm with you. I HATE the expression, It is what it is. Even when it applies. But the overuse makes me even crazier.

    I sort of like the I'm not feeling study hall today. I'm not feeling Chapter 9 today. (what I'm working on.)

    Yes, You CRUSH SOMETHING. You vanquish it. You win. You've been awesome.


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