deROSA: Looking at language changes with displeasure

Up On Hawthorn Hill

 Looking at language
changes with displeasure

Richard deRosa

Despite knowing all too well that language is always evolving, there are some aspects of its constant evolution that stick in my craw.

My wife is the unfortunate recipient of my constant grousing about things I hear people say on the radio every morning. If I were to compile a list it would be long and, well, possibly annoying to some (especially the guilty!) and characterized as pretty nitpicky. So be it. We aging amateur linguists who see ourselves as unanointed guardians of the language feel compelled to fight the good fight despite knowing full well it is a losing cause. Knowing that one is an underdog gives one a bit of a lift. It gives one a sense of righteous buoyancy. Here goes:

If someone says something I agree with, all I need do to indicate my assent is say, ‘yes, I agree.’ Why is it necessary to totally agree or totally understand or totally something or other? Either we agree with one another or we do not.

With increasing frequency, especially during interviews, respondents will preface a comment with “having said that.” Well, if one has already said ‘that,’ why mention what one already knows – you have said that. There are psychological aspects to language and perhaps such reminders have a place. But if your listener has actually been listening, there is no valid reason for having to say ‘having said that.’

The lovely definite article seems to have squirmed its way out of existence in many instances. The one that puzzles and befuddles and irritates me (I know, that is my problem) the most is the absence of ‘the’ when referring to the prom. High school kids used to go to the prom; now they go to prom. Unlike telling someone to go to hell, going to the prom has always performed quite adequately when preceded by its customary definite article. I suspect that few young people today give much thought to, or even know about, definite and indefinite articles.

And then there is ‘so fun.’ It is possible to have a lot of fun, to see the fun in sliding down a water tube, but how is it possible that something such as sky diving or kayaking can be so fun? I am the outlier here, I know. I hear it all the time. Those whose lexicon it is embedded in come to it naturally. I would love to find the miscreant who first said it. Not sure what I would do or say. I am sure I would be very nice, an uncharacteristic stance those who know me best would most likely find unbelievable. In the old days, so modified an adjective, a verb, or another adverb, which so is.

Like it or not, expressions like these are here to stay. Old guys like me can soothe our stomachs by popping chewable Pepto pills.

Now for some thoughts on restaurant language. When I go to a restaurant, I expect to be served the meal and drinks by either a waiter or waitress – at least I used to. Not anymore. We are now served by servers. I can handle that. But what really irks me is when once we are seated, whomever the server might be, introduces herself and says, “I’ll be taking care of you tonight.”

Frankly, I am not so old that I take care of myself, either in a restaurant or at home. I can bloody well take care of myself at home and about. If I need home care or otherwise need to be looked after, it will not be while in a restaurant. Even worse is the response when asking some “servers” for either water or more bread or, perhaps, a glass of wine. “No problem” is often the response.

Who knew there was a problem! Is there something inherently problematic about asking for water or wine or bread. I have even been told there is no problem when thanking a “server” for providing whatever it was I requested. Whatever happened to “you’re welcome?” Gone with the linguistic wind.

We have come a long way since Old English, Middle English, Elizabethan English – and even the Great Vowel Shift. I just do not want there to be a problem if I ask for a glass of water.

By the way, does anyone else out there cringe at unrolling silverware wrapped tightly in cloth or paper napkins? Well, that is fodder for another day. Totally awesome man!


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