Grammatically speaking: II


When I came to the United States 35 years ago, one of the usages I immediately liked was “you’re welcome” as a response to “thank you.” Even though a formula response, it was so much pleasanter than the then-current mumbled British “S’all right,” with luck followed by “sir” or “madam,” but often, in the less upscale shops, by “love,” “dear,” or “mate,” depending on one’s gender and age.

The English language, like every other, is beautiful, and I’m happy to see it enriched. Some usage, however—and this is purely my opinion—impoverishes it instead.

“What can I get you guys?” asks a 19-or-so year-old waitress of a gray-haired female friend and gray-haired female me. I aspired to be a guy—not that the word was current then in the U.K.—when I was about nine and measured my success in life by the difficulty of the trees I’d climbed, the scabs on my knees, and the fact that I’d taught myself to pee standing up (did I really tell you that?) and produce a piercing whistle with two fingers. But I eventually reconciled myself to being a girl, and since I went to the trouble, I would really prefer not to be addressed as a guy at this stage in my life.

“Thank you,” I say to the checkout clerk at the supermarket as he or she hands me my receipt. “No problem,” is the reply. Having not realized there was potential for a problem when I put my purchases on the belt, I am relieved to know I didn’t cause one. I also wonder what happened to “you’re welcome.”

“It literally frightened me to death,” says someone recounting a close shave in traffic. “And when were you resurrected?” I want to ask but don’t. “Literally” seems to have become a synonym for “metaphorically.”

Don’t even, like, get me onto “like” because whenever I hear it, I’m like, “That’s so, like, lame.” Remember when “go” was a synonym for “say”? (So I go, “Blather, blather, blather,” and she goes. “No, blather, blather.”) “Like” is more multipurpose than “go” and may take longer to die, but I hope it will eventually fade away as “go” seems to be doing. There’s no call for it. In the one instance, “like” is an unnecessary punctuating noise (the equivalent or “er” and “um,” which aren’t exactly foundations of the English language); and in the other, it replaces—for some people—a number or perfectly serviceable ways to express verbal communication.

“Like” is a juvenile word, but my generation isn’t exemplary. We have our own annoying space fillers. “It’s basically a matter of economics.” Does “basically” really add anything? Occasionally, yes, but more often than not, no. Then there’s our predilection for verbosity (something I used to think more characteristic of American English than British, but now I’m not so sure): “At this point in time, we would like you to fasten your seatbelts, stow your tray tables, and and return your seatbacks to the full upright position.” Have we forgotten that the less pompous word “now” exists?

And my current love-to-hate cliché, which originated in the U.K. and found its way over here: “At the end of the day … .” Anyone reading this who knows me personally, please shoot me or otherwise put me out of my misery if I ever utter that phrase.

At this point in time, I’m, like, basically signing off.


2 Responses to Grammatically speaking: II

  1. Dan says:

    Inspired by your reference to British terms of address like “love” and “mate,” I thought I’d mention a phrase / term of address that I genuinely like, although I don’t encounter it very often now that I’ve moved to a more northern clime.

    I like it when the lady at the deli, the waitress, etc calls me honey, sweetie, dear, or a similarly affectionate term. It’s more of a southern thing, I suppose, which I encountered more often in Virginia than New York (and never in Boston!). I just think it’s a nice way to interact.

  2. mariemcc says:

    The phrase that I find most cringeworthy is “if you will.” So pompous, so unnecessary. I could probably wax more eloquent, but unfortunately my lunch hour is over with. (I couldn’t resist lobbing you that final preposition.)

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