Being in the middle of my first century, I have a different understanding of words and their usage than kids young enough to be my grandchildren. Sometimes it bugs me to no end when I hear kids talk in what is generally text speak slang, and I loathe reading text messages that use “UR” for “you are, or your” and the like. But, what bugs me most, is how the meaning of words are twisted around from the way I learned them.
The word ‘nice’ used to be a compliment. Now it isn’t at all. I have come to loathe the word as it is used as a dismissive, if subtle, insult. When I hear anyone under 60 use the word, it is always drawled in a tone of voice that absolutely grates on my nerves. Superlatives have to be super words now. We can’t say, “oh, that’s a lovely dress.” Now it needs to have more “oomph” when we compliment someone. We have to use words like amazing, cute, darling, smashing, hot, sexy, and always a word or phrase that invokes a meaning of thin.
I think a lot of the super superlatives are due, in part, to two generations, or more, of kids sitting in front of televisions as companies hype the products they sell to stay in business. Loud, excited, or oozing suggestions of seduction and sex, commercials overwhelm our senses with the urgent need to buy a product that will make us all beautiful, rich, popular, smell good, eat well, or any number of things. All of it is, of course, hyperbole. However, all those super Superlatives have become ingrained in our cultural brain and skip around in our verbiage. Insincere, in the deepest way, gaggles of teenage girls and middle aged women squeal and giggle at one another from the moment they meet until they finally shut up and go home. Generally, less than five minutes of meaningful conversation will take place in an hour.
I was shopping with my granddaughter last week. She is five, and very into shopping. We were standing next to a mother and daughter as they looked at clothes. Every other word was something inane. “Oh that’s cute. You will look hot in that (the kid was all of nine). That’s cool, you will rock that color.” Bella looked at me after the mother held up one particularly horrific outfit and said, loudly, “Nana, that girl is too fat for that outfit. She will look like a fat grape.” It took every bit of self control I had not to laugh. She was right. She was also not buying the babble. I was very proud of her for being both honest and straight forward in her comments. We will, however, need to work on her vocal volume a bit. The mother stomped off in a huff. The kid didn’t even pay attention to Bella. She was too busy cooing over the outfit that will make her look like a grape.
I, like, you know, hate it, when people, like, kinda, you know, never really say a full sentence without one of those, you know, like stupid phrases. I also get impatient with folks who hesitate and pause every other word, and fill in the silence with uhh, mmm, err, ahh, or any other nonsense noise. How about simply stating, “I need to think for a second before I answer that question?”
Now the Christmas season is here. Yes, I said, gasp, the C word. CHRISTMAS. I know all the history behind the X in Christmas as the symbol for Christ. Got it. Greeks, spell things weird. I also know that it is a holiday season for the Jewish and the made up one for all the ‘former slaves’ in America. And I also know that it is held during what was a Roman celebration of some god or another. However, traditionally, since the death of Christ, and the rise of protestants, Christmas has been a holy day celebration for CHRISTIANS. So, I don’t like words and phrases like holiday tree, and Xmas. I dislike people trying to secularize what is a sacred holiday for me. So the modern terms that take all the true meaning from the holy day annoy me.
With all the new technology around us, people don’t actually speak to each other very much. I know my teen texts her friends more than she every rings them on the phone and chats with them. Chat has come to mean typing furiously on the keyboard while on line with a bunch of other people. Chat rooms, a new use of an old term, are now electronic pretend places on line where a bunch of strangers type at each other and generally end up in “flame wars” over their comments. In my mind I see a vague, hazy room with a fire in the middle of the floor and people screaming at each other.
Sometimes I long for an intelligent conversation with someone who actually knows how to have a conversation. One where I speak, they listen, then they speak and I listen. A conversation using words that have more than two syllables would be good. A conversation that invokes laughter, concentration, and lightening quick thinking would be incredible.. A conversation with an adult, teen, or child that doesn’t have slang and hesitations throughout, but the proper use of complete sentences and a tendency to maintain at least a hint of a link to the original subject would make me happy. Too many of us are simply too distracted by shiny things, ringing cell phones, and movement to concentrate on a long conversation. Soon, like handwriting letters, conversation will be a lost art. Eventually, we will all communicate through the typed word, and only gesture and grunt like original cave dwellers when we actually meet in person.
Oh well, I still love words. Shakespeare, Spencer, Pope, Bronte, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Dickens, and even a few Science Fiction/ Fantasy writers use words that say what they mean and mean what they say. The words can make me laugh out loud, cry, ponder, and fill me with an overwhelming urge to write. I can only hope that future books aren’t filled with one word pages written in text speak.