Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Am I Right?

Not so long ago it was ... like ... all people could ... like .... talk about how ... like ... everybody was ... like ... sprinkling the word "like" ... like ... into all their sentences.  Like, you know, remember that?

And then the pet peeve de jour changed?  People began commenting on how it seemed that everyone was making their voices rise at the end of their sentences?  So that everything they said sounded like a question?  Even declarative sentences?  It was called "uptalk"?

More recently there's been discussions about "vocal fry," that kind of scratchy thing pop singers have been doing for years but that's become one more example of the different responses women and men often get even when they're doing the same thing.

Well ... I've got a linguistic pet peeve.  You must have noticed the number of people who put an interogative at the end of a sentence, right?

I know that it can be a way of checking in: "Are you following me?  This is making sense, right?"

It also can be an honest inquiry:  "What do you think of this?  Do you think I'm, well, right?"

Yet I've often heard it used in what I can only describe as a "bullying" way:  "What I'm saying is undeniably self-evident.  I dare you to disagree with me.  Right?"

It's this later use that bothers me most.  That, and the fact that it can be so darned hard to tell the difference among them, right?

According to the Global Language Monitor (Who knew there was such a thing?  And how could there not be such a thing?), as of January 1, 2014 the English language contained some 1,025,109.8 words.  One million words.  Distinct words.  Beautiful words.  That's a lot to choose from, right?

I have a friend from Japan who I met while he was studying here in the U.S.  One of the things I noticed about him was the precision of his English.  He didn't say "upset" when he meant "angry." He wasn't "surprised" when he really was "astonished."  (There's a cool website,, that's dedicted to describing "the difference between similar terms and objects.)  It seemed to me that he had learned Enlish whereas I, and most other English speakers I know, have largely absorbed it.

One can, of course, go too far with an instance on so-called "proper" speech.  (Even the concept of "proper speech" opens us to the question of just who it is who's declaring one form of speech as "proper" and another not.)  Yet it is also all too easy to go not far enough.  

Language can be used as a blessing or a bludgeon; to open eyes or to render things further opaque; to deepen connections or to draw distinctions that divide.  At its core, though, language is a tool, much as a car is a tool that can help us to get from one place to another and a paintbrush is a tool to help us express what might otherwise be inexpressible.  As with all tools, it behooves us to be careful how we use it.  After all, a tool is only as effective as the person wielding it is skilled in its use.


Pax tecum,


Print this post


arthurrashap said...

So, I suspect most people, when pressed, will admit they have some concern/pet peeve/upset/whatever about certain words or terms used out of the million words in the English Language - a million? (excuse the question mark, Wik).

My current concern relates to the word: "interesting." Just open your ears to the media commentor, to your friends and family, to how often that word is used. And what does it really mean as it is used? Here are some words that perhaps could clarify what the user really means or feels.
alluring; amusing; beautiful; curious; delightful; exotic; impressive; lovely; pleasing; provocative; refreshing; stimulating; striking; thought-provoking; unusual; absorbing; enchanting; affecting; arresting; entrancing; inviting; prepossessing; stirring; winning; charismatic; elegant; exceptional; gracious; magnetic; pleasurable; suspicious; absorbing; engrossing; fascinating; riveting; gripping; compelling; compulsive; engaging; enthralling; appealing; attractive; entertaining; stimulating; diverting; intriguing; bloggable; captivating.
That is a start on the million. So, don't let 'em off with their comment that a thought, an event, an action or inaction is 'interesting.' O.K.?
Arthur Rashap

RevWik said...

Wouldst that more people would use a thesauras, Arthur! A type I especially like is something I came across while researching fiction writing: The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. ( So many nuanced ways to express ourselves.

Of course, there's always the challenge that those with whom we're speaking won't catch the nuances, but at least we'll know ...