since publishing the first version of this post in february 2010, i continue to lament the deterioration of my mother tongue into barely-functional grunts and blathering. further, i find myself using the very same words i would condemn others for using. i am, of course, my own worst critic. while i stand 100% by my original lists, i have found it necessary to amend the first list with a fourth word. please read on for the original, with added content.
i have copy-edited quite a bit as the student ministries webmaster, but my true reputation as a grammar snob stems from constantly trying to correct people around me as they speak… or yelling at the tv, computer, or ipod, “are you listening to yourself?” i do become mildly irritated when people over- or under-use commas, confuse its/it’s or your/you’re, or cannot divide thirty lines into more than one paragraph, but few things push my buttons like the butchery of spoken language. there are certain phrases and terms I propose be banished entirely. my top three for each category…
3 phrases we must ban immediately (with a bonus usage hereby declared anathema):
- “i know, right?” – also “smooshified” into inorite, txted as ikr, or try its canadian cousin, “i know, eh?” this one seems to be a nagging holdover from valley girl slang, and the film mean girls used it gratuitously. that’s it. i will blame lindsay lohan. “i know” is a statement of assertion. tacking on “right?” at the end turns it into a plea for approval. either say “i agree,” or “is that so?” (or whatever current version you wish), but don’t water both down by combining them into one meaningless mess.
- “go ahead and…” - 99.99% of the time, there is absolutely no reason to say this. have we become so hesitant that we must wait for someone to tell us to “go ahead” before we take any action? once on a tech support call with godaddy, the “expert” agent used “go ahead and” before every single step of the process he was talking me through. he must have said it a dozen times in a couple minutes! as much as i love lost, the writers allowed kate to say it in season 5 while she was supposed to be stuck in 1977. i assume many (ab)users of this banality believe it makes them sound smarter or more informed, but i pretty much stop listening to you as soon as you say it.
- “the thing (problem, reason, question) is, is…” – i’ve even heard our brilliantly articulate current president blunder through this one. multiple times. there are very few instances where a double “is” (or other doubled words) might be correct, but I prefer avoiding this one altogether. my fellow grammar aficionado mignon fogarty, a.k.a. “grammar girl,” podcasted about this some time ago. (to give proper credit, the copy was written by bonnie trenga.) i’ve even heard people utter such drivel as, “the rules of this game are, is” or “the reason being, is” as well as my favorite, “her reaction was, is.” aagh!
- “(okay,) so” – this one seems to have snowballed. similar to the phenomenon of noticing how many “car twins” you have on the road as soon as you start driving a new one, i hadn’t paid this much attention until i read this new york times post by anand giridharadas. he proposes several reasons for its ascendancy of this “verbal tic” to the supreme sentence opener du jour, but i most resonate with the sense of impatience: “with “so,” we beg to be heard. this, we insist, is what you’ve been waiting to hear; this is the “so” moment.” you might not have been talking about anything related to the subject, but when someone says “okay, so” we feel we must instantly join in whatever concern they have at the moment. this one is the hardest for me to avoid. perhaps related, but more likely the equivalent to inserting “um” whenever you can’t think of anything else to say, i have also noticed that many people will tack “so” on to the end of a thought. to make people sound a trifle more articulate, i have always tried diligently to cut it off from the end of video clips. imagine my consternation when i found myself doing it repeatedly when i was the one on camera!
3 words we must never say again:
- hobo – apparently when students (and adults, i suppose) use this word, they mean “homeless person.” calling someone a “hobo,” however, strips the person of dignity. to be precise, to describe someone as a hobo was to attribute to them a certain migrant lifestyle, usually stowing away on rail cars. it was a contemporary of calling someone with down syndrome a “mongoloid.” needless to say, i have no patience for this word in a context such as a mission trip, but i have to remember to explain calmly why it’s such a nasty thing to say. for some reason, kids never seem to know. (I can happily report that i only heard it once, in passing, on our trip this year.)
- retard(ed) – i have been blessed to know many people with down syndrome, as well as autism spectrum disorder (which now enfolds asperger’s). kids with special needs, and the adults they grow to be, will add immense joy to your life if you will only open yourself to it. i confess i often skirt dangerously close to this one by dabbling with its cousins “dumb” and “stupid.” what i really mean is that I heartily disagree with a choice someone has made, and that someone usually is another driver. when i say things like this, the underlying problem is that I feel my rights have been trampled, rights which as a bondservant of Christ i claim to have surrendered. makes you go “hmmm.” (some helpful resources – the r-word, autism speaks)
- gay – if you are singing a really old song (such as a madrigal which must contain endless choruses of “tra la la“) or reading classic literature aloud, i’ll let you off. otherwise, if you intend to (respectfully) describe a person or behavior with regard to sexuality, then use an acceptable term. the word “gay” has come to be a catch-all derogatory slur all but devoid of any actual meaning. even in our enlightened and tolerant age, there remains a prevailing attitude that anybody whose lifestyle differs from the majority must be labeled and branded as other, different, inferior. hence the term that went from meaning “happy and carefree” to “homosexual” now can be used to insult everything from a decision made by one’s parents (“what? i can’t go to the party? that’s so gay!”) to inanimate objects like a vending machine (“this thing is gay – it stole my #$*&^ dollar!”). our camp speaker last summer, while well intentioned, chose an unfortunate example to illustrate this phenomenon. our kids remember to this day matt’s story of the “homosexual corn dog,” but have no clue what the message was about. oh my. i don’t know if he thought through that particular illustration.
say what you mean, mean what you say, and think before you speak. it will save you endless humiliation from the likes of grammar snobs like me. you might just end up saying things more like Jesus would. i’m quite sure he wasn’t One to waste or misuse words.
understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: you must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. (james 1:19, new living translation)