Friday, December 26, 2014

Word Pookie #18 (date unknown)

  Maybe it's just a sign of age, I don't know. You know the package; the old grumpy guy fussing about how kids talk nowadays, or to that effect maybe? It's just that I can barely tolerate listening to the usage of some words, as they are murdered in public. Another aspect of the old guy syndrome is the evolving usage issue. Some words come into wide application only briefly, and kinda flit away again. Others, just as annoying, remain. So then, we might be able to guess that the short list I intend to bellyache about will promptly disappear next week, leaving me with nothing to complain about! That said, I shall next hazard my list.
  It bugs me to hear young men say "totally", when what they mean is "that sounds about right, I guess". It bothers me to listen to girls say "absolutely", when what is intended is a polite agreement, so as to not start an argument in public. The sound of "of course" grates upon my nerves, in that it is almost never applied to instances of common knowledge. "Of course" might apply to Hank Aaron's record number of homers. It almost certainly would never apply to the gross national product of Guatemala, as a "well known number". Number four on my list is "y' know whad I mean?", which is almost exclusively applied to inference sets; of which in fact, I have no idea at all; what you are discussing, y'know whad I mean? Rounding out today's list of word-pookie is the utterly egregious and finally banal misuse of "awesome". An intelligent F-5 tornado, as it demolishes St. Louis; might perhaps qualify as "awesome", the flavor of a stick of chewing gum, hardly ever, at all.
  Does any of this matter to you? I mean, you'll have to admit that I completely overlooked the "ebonics" of usage, as in the deployment of "acks", nor did I gripe at all over the misery of "eksetera" (acks Yul Brynner about that one!), so it's not like I'm getting out of control on the topic or something.
  No, what bugs me is (I think) the premise that words and language itself are in existence such that by virtue of a common and expected usage of symbols, content of thought might pass from one mind to another. Imagine a world in which conversation was done with semaphore. The flags raised sequentially at certain angles, are to convey across a distance; a message. The "creative" use of flags to imply meaning, rather than convey it; is not "progress" in my mind. To signal "whopper tidal wave" with arms and flags so to refer to a pigeon's nest, might be thought of as an "overly strong" usage, but in fact is weak and wobbly.
  The totality of which "totally" is sign, is an oddly "mostly not there" type of totality. Likewise with the absolute, lately gone missing in action in "absolutely". To teach creative writing then, we should aim "down" toward understatement. To habitually overstate is precisely what weakens our words. Compare and contrast "Of course, the totally awesome hamburger, was absolutely delicious, y'know what I mean?", with "The burger was okay, I didn't die". Which of the two more accurately portrays the sitting down to consume greasy ground beef? Furthermore, the unreliable inclusion of "y'know whad I mean?" appears to imply a clairvoyance on my part, as listener, such that the comment itself is unnecessary, since I already knew! If I am to become "great" by the means of shrinking great words; somewhat akin to having F.D.R and J.F.K out back raking leaves, I'd guess such to be an unwholesome development.
  Further along this line, the aristocratic laziness involved to simply slap together words willy nilly in any old way seems to imply a certain "high-ness" on my part, which was never verbalized, but implied by it's structure. If then I'm so "up" a person  as all that, as to skip my actual statement, and supply instead an uppity hint at meaning which you are to decode as you wish, breaks the rule of communication. The message was not transmitted, and old guys are grumpy about it!
  Now what difference any of this makes, is difficult to state clearly. That is, the topic itself seems to transform itself, from a generalized gripe about "youngsters" into a specialized reference set of me, or my generation. And it isn't merely words we witness this phenomenon operating in. Haven't you noticed how people tend to get fixated over time with some small thing or another? Perhaps it is noisy cars "racing" down the street, cupboard doors left open, or "proper etiquette". Some niche or another of expertise presumed is carved out, a trivia, or some narrowly defined history, begins to become an unanswerable redoubt.
  Arguments against whether the hull thickness of WWII battleships were vulnerable to torpedoes, end up stalling. Whether or not petunias are perennial, ends stifling conversation, not promoting it. Soon, the turf of the tiny expert becomes unassailable, and next they begin to "humor" you! The "area" chosen by the grump, over which he maintains "unassailable truth", also just happens to be "entirely irrelevant truth". You'll get no arguments, for the simple reason, that nobody (but you) cares enough about it one way or another to fight over it with you. Your "reality" has lately become "numbing", and this is what we mean by the word "old", I think.
  Just in the same way as you once went through growth bursts, as a teenager, we age in bursts. To physiologically have grey hair, stooped shoulders and wrinkles might be signs of age, but not necessarily those of being "old". I'm saying that our quirky expertise in dead-end topics, the mastering of conversation killers as a cultivated crop, that is what makes us "old".
  And perhaps we could get by with simply swearing off such bad habits as all that, so to refer to ourselves as "young at heart"? Newsflash, only old people talk that way. Nor can the correct answer be simply the development of such a thick hide as to not fly off the handle when "awesome, actually, and fusstrate" begin to manifest. To simply "not-do" will not do!
  If language were a garden, you would not (I hope) be glad to simply defend your patch of carrots, and yell at kids who laugh at you as you do so. Our error was neither in the planting, nor in the defending of our gardens, but in failing to enlarge it! We are not place-holders first, but only "hold turf" after it is conquered!
  Likewise, we tend to see becoming a grump (getting old) in service to some private expertise set, as a thing (in itself) to be avoided. But, what if the grumpiness is a sign, that we best ought pick up speed in regard to conquest, which would be to learn new things? And I mean that the grump-quotient may well be an on-board warning sign to pick up the pace expanding the garden. If the ever-whittled-down size of the domain, is the problem, then, let's go conquer new dirt!
  So, instead of bellyaching about the vapid whippersnapper usage of "absolutely" as a "yes-ish" type of qualified agreement, we proceed instead to extend and ground the Absolute (Himself!) in our words! He the Rock, draws us to Him. It never was about the kid offending, or you being offended. We thereby, no longer satisfied to merely mock the thin gruel of rice krispy treats said to be "awesome", we become small channels of the Awesome One reaching out in space time to grasp in welcome those lonesome boys. Be in Awe of Him boys! Behold: He of Whom, through Whom, and unto Whom be all that is, was, and ever shall be! Or to rephrase, the enemy of old age, is you being friendly to little kids, and teenagers.
  We, by main force drive back the forest of ignorance, clearing the trees of guilt and superstition, burning the underbrush of loneliness and fear, so to build a garden, a playground from which we can rest to admire grand vistas. The greybeard was built specially to be the pilot of the D-9 dozer, leading the way into the wilderness. Happily blowing up stumps, knocking down piles of rock, is a glad thing and we won't be happy until we do so. Life is "directional", we spread out, as we gaze up. We root down, so to bear fruit, that others be nourished.
  Quickly we sprint. . . into True Arm's glad embrace, as He thunders "Well done Junior!". Words spoken, the entire concept, we borrowed from it's Inventor.
  He talks right.

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