Monday, October 26, 2009

What's the Good Word?

In a recent poll conducted by Marist College, nearly half of Americans - 47 percent - said they find "whatever" the most annoying word or phrase in use today.

Twenty-five percent said they found "you know" most grating; 11percent can't stand "it is what it is," 7 percent would like to ban "anyway" from all verbal exchanges; and 2 percent reported that they could do without hearing "at the end of the day."

I disagree. "Whatever" has evolved into what is clearly one of the most useful words in the English language today, a word of such economy and impact that it's appropriate for almost any occasion.

Consider these definitions, some of which are found in the Urban Dictionary:

Used in an argument, you can admit that you are wrong without actually admitting it. ("So the Pope isn't Italian. Whatever."

It is passive-aggressive behavior at its most eloquent. (She: "If you leave me, I'll kill myself!" He: "Whatever.")

It is often used to dismiss someone when it is clear that rational discussion would be a waste of time. ("Don't tell me you believe in that evolution stuff! The Bible clearly states that the Earth is 6,000 years old!" "Whatever, go bother someone else.")

It is the most annoying thing that your girlfriend can say. ("Hey would you like to get dinner, see a movie, then perhaps go back to my place?" "Whatever.")

It's a phrase that can be used to indicate complete apathy. (Teacher: "Who was Plato?" Student: "Mickey Mouse's dog." Teacher: "No, he was a Greek philosopher." Student: "Whatever."

The term has more uses than a Swiss army knife.

By my yardstick, there are a lot more irritating phrases contributing to word pollution out there.

Take, for instance, the phrase, "What's the good word?" What are you supposed to reply? "Joblessness?" "Afghanistan?" "Schwarzenegger?" On rare occasions, you could actually reply with a good word like, "Hawaii" or "raise." Better yet, answer it with "It is what it is." That will stop the conversation dead in its tracks.

How about "no problem." This has somehow replaced "you're welcome" although it's a lot better than "no sweat" which was in vogue some time ago. George Carlin used to mock the phrase this way: "Thanks for helping me bring the dead babies up from the cellar."

"No problem."

"Awesome" makes my list. I have yet to hear it uttered by anyone who fits the definition of the word, "inspiring awe."

I don't know how "sucks" made it into everyday polite conversation, but it has. In fact, it is now the most sincere expression of sympathy going. ("My dog died and I'm in foreclosure." "Man, that sucks.")

But No. 1 on my hit list is "dude." Originally used to describe a dandy in Victorian England, it has somehow found its way into everyday conversation thanks to the stoners, surfers and skateboarders who often use it three times in one sentence ("I was at the mall the other day, dude, and there was this hot chick and I went up to her and dude I was like ... dude ...").

If that's not distressing enough, the youth of our country are already at work crafting a new set of clich├ęs. UCLA has compiled a dictionary called, naturally enough, "UCLA Slang" which attempts to categorize the language of the campus.

Successful submissions had to be unlikely to appear in a conventional dictionary. If the words and phrases also have the potential to puzzle parents, so much the better.

"Destroy," for instance, means the opposite of what you would think: to do well on something like a test.

Verbs morph into nouns, as in "epic fail," now slang for "what a mistake!" Nouns also become adjectives, with "Obama" now used as slang for "cool or rad," as in: "You just aced that exam - you are so Obama!"

The lingo of texting provided such visual entries as "QQ," an emoticon similar to a smiley face that, in this instance, stands for the verb "to cry."

Taking the first initials of a common phrase can result in a catchy initialism such as I.D.K., which is slang for "I don't know." Once those initials start being pronounced as a full blown word, they've evolved into an acronym like FOMO, which stands for "fear of missing out."

Whatever.

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