Friday, July 17, 2015

You all right then?

RHYS BOWEN: I've just returned from England and every time I go there I notice that the language is changing. The latest thing I've noticed is that if you go into a shop or restaurant people no longer say "Can I help you?" or "What would you like?"
They say, "You all right then?"
This flummoxed me at first. Did I look sick? About to pass out? In need of help? It took me a while to realize they actually wanted to know what I wanted to pay for or order. How strange is this? And it was pretty universal all over UK. "You all right then?"
I was tempted to answer, "No, I'm not feeling wonderful today. My big toe is throbbing and I have some digestive problems," and then watch their faces.
I have been bemused for years by the ever evolving language in Britain. First it was "going pear-shaped" which took me a while to work out meant plans being derailed, everything going wrong.
Then there was "throwing a wobbly" which I realized meant having a fit, losing ones cool.

In the US my least favorite developments in language are a waiter or server saying "No problem" when you order something.
Me: Could I have a glass of water?"
Waiter:  No problem.
Of course there should be no problem, I want to yell. You are being paid to bring me water. Bringing me water is the only reason you are standing by my table right now.

The other one that drives me mad, even though I can tell they are trying hard, is "absolutely!"
Me: Could I have the swordfish?"
Waitress: "Absolutely!"
Me: And the garlic mashed potatoes with that?"
Waitress:  Absolutely!"
Me: And a side salad?
"Waitress (even more fervently) Absolutely!

It is interesting how slang and common speech has changed during my lifetime. Things have been "smashing"  "groovy" "far out" "cool" "nasty" "bad" and how wrong it sounds when a person of the wrong age-group tries to sound hip and gets the vernacular slightly off. This is a big challenge for me as I write historical novels. I have to make sure that Molly Murphy speaks as if she is in 1905, not 1890 or 1910. And some of the slang words used at the time can't be used in my books simply because they sound too modern. Far out, for example, was in common use in 1905, but who would believe it?

Lady Georgie is a lot easier for me as I remember how older people spoke when I was a child. Older folks still said things like "Spiffing" and "top hole" and "You are a brick, old bean."  Yes, they really did. And I only have to read a little Bertie Wooster to get right back in the feel of the Thirties.

So I'm interested to know what expressions have caught you by surprise? Which modern sayings drive you up the wall? Up the pole? Bananas? or whatever it is right now?


  1. "How is everything tasting?" "Are we still enjoying our entree?"

    The overuse of the present progressive drives me crazy; it feels invasive, and when added to the first person plural I often believe that the restaurant server is one step away from hand-feeding me...

    "If you have any questions, my name is M'Linda (an actual name tag)." And what would your name be if I DIDN'T have any questions?

  2. I’m not fond of “absolutely” or “no problem,” either. But
    “can’t even” is the one that I find the most aggravating . . . .

  3. "Far out" was in common use in 1905? I would have had a problem hearing Molly Murphy say that! But how interesting!

    Thanks for a good couple of laughs out loud, Rhys.

  4. Another current waitperson-speak in place of "Absolutely!" is "You got it." Over and over and over with a smile and a perky voice. Sigh.

    [And can I just say I hate the new Captcha thing with the pictures. I'm always yelling at it, saying, "Well if you GAVE me better pictures of sandwiches I could find all of them!"]

  5. Very funny this morning, Rhys, thanks! And Edith too:). I hate when a server comes to the table and asks "are you still working on that?" Makes it sound like eating the meal is a great chore...

    Now I'm off to throw a wobbly!

  6. Language changes. That's the nature of a living language. My dad (68) gets worked up over stuff. I try not to. I also try not to use the "hip" language unless I'm teasing my children.

    And I must not eat in very fancy restaurants. I never get asked that. "Are you done?" or "Would you like me to take your plate?" if it is empty, or if I look like I'm finished eating. "Do you want a box?" "I'm Mary and I'll be your server tonight" (which is helpful in places with low lighting where you might not see the nametag).

    The only thing that drives me crazy is that the server always stops to ask if I need anything the minute I put something in my mouth. Do they teach that at job training? =)

  7. I know I'm getting old because I have to Google slang now to figure out what people are talking about☺I guess I should be grateful Google exists!

    I was talking to someone in my age group (we're in our mid thirties) how quickly slang, but specifically slurs (for lack of a better word) can date a movie. Think of how casually people threw around words like "retarded" and "faggot" in 80s comedies. Watching them today, you wince, but we thought nothing of it at the time. Language changes quickly and it's not always a bad thing.

  8. My funniest waiter remark was the one who said "I am sorry, we are without the fish tonight."

    And when I was a teenager, I worked at a record store. I remember the time a teenager…, I was a teenager too!… Came in and asked for the 45 which was singing the preamble to the Constitution, or something like that. ( do you remember this? Not Schoolhouse Rock but it was something sort of R & b. This would have been 1967 or so.)

    Anyway I knew the song, and didn't like it. But I was the sales person,So I looked at him and said--sure let me get it for you.
    He said "great, that song is really bad."
    Which, indeed, I thought it was. So I said "yes, I agree, it is really bad."
    So then we stood there for a minute.
    And I guess I realized that to him, bad meant good, but not to naïve me.

  9. Hank, did you also in that era say that good-looking boys were "tough"? (Actually, I guess it was spelled "tuff".)That was the cool slang in Hamilton, Ohio in the late 60's.

    My latest bugaboo, and it's so pervasive, is when I apologize for some small infraction of cultural mores and the other party says "No, you're fine." What? Yes, I am fine, thank you very much, but that comment really makes no sense, in or out of context. A more appropriate response would be "Thank you", or even "That's okay." Not "you're fine".

  10. Whatever happened to "You're welcome?" As in, "Thanks for being on the show today," "Thanks for the casserole," "Thanks for your time," and the response is, invariably, "Thank you!" Come on, I said it first!

  11. FChurch, exactly. Don't you shake your head at that one?

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  13. Oh tuff-- definitely! And sharp. Right?

  14. the one that drives John crazy is "whatever". He finds it terribly rude. I suppose it is


  15. I went to Catholic school for 12 years and between the nuns and two favorite English teachers, received an appreciation for both grammar and word usage. So certain slang and phrases used today really get my goat (what does that mean, exactly?).

    Can't stand "whatever," either. But I especially dislike, "My bad" and "Sick" (as in it's good/great").

  16. Oh yes. my bad really annoys me, especially when it comes from an educated person. A lot of these expressions can be forgiven from those who know no better. Another instance is "How are you?" "I'm good."
    This obviously came from the German where GUT means both well and good.


  17. Edith--just chuckled over your Capcha comment. I have wasted so much time trying to determine what is pasta in their pictures. Thumb prints would be good. Register your thumbprint then just touch the streen to identify yourself.

  18. Hey, Karen in Ohio, I have the same reaction to "oh no, you're fine" that you do! I moved to Michigan from NJ and that was the first time I heard that expression. There are a couple of other expressions that we didn't have in NJ like "Do you want to go with?" With what? and "I did it on accident." And Edith, those captcha pictures! My eyesight leaves something to be desired (no way near 20/20) and a few times I honestly couldn't figure out what I was looking at and completely failed to prove I wasn't a robot!

  19. Oh, Rhys, thanks for the giggle today. And you will love this--Anglophenia's Guide to the Latest British Slang:

    "Reem?" "Dench?" "Chirpsing?"

    Really? Ack. I struggle with keeping the slang current in my books, too. I would never use any of the above words because they'll be out of fashion in a year. But I don't want my characters to sound like they're living in a time warp, either.

    But sometimes I am so tempted to sneak in someone saying, "Jolly good show, old bean."

  20. God, the "whatever" thing -- drives me nuts. I've been having work done on my house (don't get me started -- I could rant forever), and I hear the contractor talking to the guys and including "whatever" in there too. I'm thinking -- Don't "whatever" anything to do with my house! It sounded dismissive, as if he didn't really care -- and that attitude translates down to the hourly laborers. GRRRRR. I'm so pissed off, that the contractor himself is finishing up the loose ends cuz I don't want the guys there anymore. Done. Fini. Kaput.

    Wait, were we talking about language? :-)

  21. I first heard "no problem" in Dublin back in the nineties. We'd made a request at a hotel in Dublin and that was the response. I remember Dad shaking his head at that answer. Expressions that bug me? 24/7. Where did that come from and would it please go back. I have trouble with captcha too. Everything looks like sushi.

  22. I notice most of these as they go by, but "no problem" annoys me most.

    A slightly different, but I think related issue, is the general coarsening of public discourse. I grew up in the 1960's so of course I knew all the curse words from a young age, but there was a very clear societal norm that those words were reserved for exceptional circumstances. By the time I graduated from college I swore like a sailor, but only in situations where I chose to relax the filter. General curse words are a part of mainstream conversation now, and even the "F bomb" has pretty much lost its power. I am shocked at how much cursing I hear in restaurants, stores, etc. It is my sense that most people under age 30 today genuinely don't realize how offensive that language can be to some, particularly to those a generation older than me.

    Do others notice that, or am I becoming an old prude?

  23. Susan - I agree with you wholeheartedly! My partner (who WAS a sailor) uses the F word quite liberally which makes me cringe, but when one hears some of these words come from the mouth of some pretty young thing it really brings home how much our language has coarsened.
    Also, as an English woman who has lived in the US for 40+ years, I sometimes feel I need a translator when I return to the Old Country!

  24. Not that we need to speak as if quoting classic literature, but I'm always surprised and happy to hear someone speak in full sentences. I don't need dependent clauses, but subjects and verbs are always appreciated. Technology seems to have brought a catastrophic change in our ability to spell and form complex thoughts. Yes, I am a retired teacher (as if that's not obvious).

  25. I'm a bit less in touch with current slang now that I'm no longer teaching high school students. I remember a student being very impressed that I understood "dissin' me" just an abbreviation of disrespecting, after all. Interesting that "far out" goes so far back. It was fun to point out that e. e. cummings used the emphatic Not so popular with my sarcastic students in

    'pity this busy monster, manunkind'

    pity this busy monster, manunkind,

    not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
    your victim (death and life safely beyond)

    plays with the bigness of his littleness
    --- electrons deify one razorblade
    into a mountainrange; lenses extend
    unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
    returns on its unself.
    A world of made
    is not a world of born --- pity poor flesh

    and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
    fine specimen of hypermagical

    ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

    a hopeless case if --- listen: there's a hell
    of a good universe next door; let's go

    E. E. Cummings

  26. In fiction, on the other end of the spectrum, JD Robb's books are set in the 2060s,so she has FUTURE slang. "Ice." "That's so icy."

  27. Thank you all for the chuckles. I totally screamed at some of them and others were absolutely awesome. I mean, I would say thanks, but y'know, whatever! I figger it's no problem.

    There, I think I got them all in but the "F" word, which, sorry, not even for a joke. My parents adopted all of my brother's slang, he's a generation older than I am, and for some reason, my parents liked the language. There were times I had to ask my dad what he meant. I honestly had no idea. The one that drew the most stares was 'off your gourd.' I've never heard it from anyone outside of my family, but it means you are nuts.

  28. I know, right? Very common amongst the people I work with.