Words have power. The language we use tells people more about us than we like to think. Which makes you wonder why we don’t try harder not to sound like idiots.*
I was having a discussion the other day with my friend and we started by bantering back-and-forth about expressions we are too old to use or that are so overdone they should be retired. (This exchange went on for several minutes. We think we are very funny when we haven’t had our caffeine yet.)
Everybody’s Saying It
Me: “I can’t stand the use of “What happens in (Blank) stays in (Blank). The Las Vegas board of tourism should fine people whenever it is misused.”
Her: “I’m sick of hashtags. I run across one and think “Why do people throw them at the end of everything they post? I’ve used one ONCE, and then only ironically.” #overdone
Me: “Text speak should be outlawed altogether. We could force people to wear an emoticon or the @ symbol as a sign of penance. It would be red and we’d call it The Scarlet Symbol!”
Her: “The Hashtag is better.”
Me: “I think the @ symbol is closer to the letter A.”
Her: “You should definitely use the HASHTAG!” #Opinionated
For the sake of our friendship, we drop it. You’ll notice, however, that I eventually agreed with her. Another pet peeve rears its English head.
Me: “The phrase ‘Keep Calm and [Blank] On!’ where people fill in the blank with whatever thing they like. I saw one that said ‘Keep Calm and Bake On!’ with a cupcake instead of a crown. Stop just stop!”
Clerical Errors–Not Just For Clergy Anymore
We discussed what we were tired of seeing in writing.
Her: “I’m tired of seeing single word sentences. You know, where the author puts a period after every word for emphasis?”
Me: “Or, if you put it ironically: Overused. Periods. Must. Go.”
I couldn’t think of an example to complement this at the time, but since then, I would submit another particular annoyance—the word ‘Not’. Where people make a statement and then negate it with the single word ‘Not’ afterward. I just love this. Not.
Insults Add Injury
Then she proved to me exactly how far out of the loop I am, slang wise.
Her: “I’m tired of ‘Throwing shade.’ ”
Me: “What? I’ve never heard of that one.”
Her: “It’s an insult.”
Me: “Like ‘dissing’ someone?”
Her: “I don’t think anyone uses that one anymore.” (I swear she snickered when she said this.)
Her: “And ‘Butthurt’. I’m tired of ‘Butthurt’.”
Me: “That’s what she said.”**
Her: “Hah hah. Very funny.”
Me: “No, I’m tired of the phrase, ‘That’s what she said.’ I don’t really know the expression ‘Butthurt’ is it like ‘Asshole’?”
We devolve into a nattering Google search trying to confirm the origin of that one.
Her: “It means: ‘Overly annoyed, bothered or bugged because of a perceived insult; needlessly offended.’ I would have thought it had a more sexual meaning.”
Then she looks a bit further; she is scrolling the text when she stops.
Her: “Oh…someone here uses it to be degrading, as if it means rape.”
We’re both silent for a minute tacitly agreeing this isn’t funny and maybe we should just drop this line of thought. But, we aren’t over finding ourselves terribly amusing in general, if not in this particular instance.
You’ve Been Served
Me: “I hate it when I use slang that I am wayyy too old to be using: ‘My Bad!’”
Her: “I’ll confess, with a pre-teen running around the house, I’ve been known to drop a ‘Whatevs’ on occasion.”
Me: (Gasp) “No!”
She nods sadly and I shake my head in disbelief. We pause for a moment to digest how much respect we have just lost for each other.
Then we momentarily veer unto serious grounds. I may have climbed on a soapbox for a moment or two, before being overwhelmed by the dizzying heights of intellectual pursuit and falling off again.
Brown Shirting It
Me: “The use of the phrase ‘Nazi’ intending to be a clever slur for whatever someone feels like making fun of: ‘Grammar Nazi’… ‘Soup Nazi’…”
Me: “Speaking of Nazis, I just watched a memorial show about the holocaust this week in which two sons of Nazi war criminals met and talked about their respective fathers’ part in the genocide. It was shocking how much one son denied his father’s involvement—even with evidence put before him—he refused to believe his father was a bad man.”
My friend no doubt said something very smart and insightful in response, but alas, I have forgotten what is was. Enjoy this Holocaust meme instead:
And this one:
On a side note, I wasn’t aware there was a Holocaust Day of Remembrance. This week, all anyone could talk about was an album by Beyonce–something having to do with fruit juice. Instead, I watched a documentary about Niklas Frank and Horst van Wachter–sons of two high-ranking Nazi officials. PBS presented this in advance of Holocaust Remembrance Day which was May 5 this year. The Last Picture of Hans Frank aired May 2 and it was an excerpt of a larger documentary: My Nazi Legacy: What Our Fathers Did. An article in The Telegraph provides insight into the conflict surrounding those who remember and those who still deny the Holocaust–in part or whole.
Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Blog, Already in Progress
Me: “I have wondered how entire countries could have participated in the atrocities during the Holocaust; how did so many people fall in line with the belief that killing people was a moral and just act? And now, listening to the bile spewed by Donald Trump, I see how it can happen.”
We stumble through the hazards of discussing politics on a gray day. It helps that we are both Die-Hard With a Vengeance liberals but the topic should come with a trigger warning:
Danger: discussing the buffoons currently running for office may result in catatonia, convulsions, or the desire to hurl yourself off a tall building. If over-exposed, seek the nearest bi-partisan affiliated medical center or move to Canada.
Just the day before, Ted Cruz took his campaign off life support, and as a nation we were equal parts relieved and horrified by the confirmation that Donald Trump was the de facto Republican candidate.***
Me: “I heard what’shisname dropped out of the race, finally. I can never remember his name. You know, the first runner up?”
Her: “Cruz. Ted Cruz.” [Read this with a James Bond 007 emphasis]
Me: “And now the Republicans are fighting about whether to back Trump or not. I am terrified of the prospect of a Trump presidency.”
Her: “I just can’t watch the election coverage any more. I am so sick and tired of hearing the hateful things Trump says and then there are his supporters who are proud of their racists, sexist, bigoted views. I’d rather go work in my garden.”
And on this, I have to agree. After listening to people sling political bullshit, it’s nice to find a use for it by going and fertilizing the plants—metaphorically speaking.
Our conversation drizzled to a halt and we signed off Skype and returned to the minutia of daily life. But the conversation stayed with me.
I’ve been trying to parse out the meaning of it all—what I think about the mixed bag of ideas: well-worn aphorisms, iconic statements (#oversimplification), misused marketing jargon, and the fact we’ve reduced the election process to tweet wars. It’s become a contest for who can fling the most monkey dung without having any stick to them! When I couldn’t wrap my head around an answer, I did what most people do. I looked to the internet.
NPR offers a meaningful look at the effect of a meme-oriented mindset by reporting on the comparison of Donald Trump with Adolph Hitler. The article references Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies—and it gave me a momentary pause for thought to consider my own eagerness to pass on a witty slam against a political adversary. Am I part of the problem when I partake in the Olympic event that is the hundred-yard dash to judgement on something the other side has said?
Democrats like to vilify the enemy as much as the Republicans like to burn Democrats in verbal effigy. Tit-for-tat backstabbing is the mother tongue of politics. Rhetoric, polemics and personal insult take the place of a real discussion. Issues are boiled down to a symbol and a word or two.
In the political arena, center stage is given to the loudest actor with the best lines. (Who remembers anything Guildenstern said? Anybody? No? No, it’s all about Hamlet. Hamlet said this. Hamlet stabbed Polonius. Hamlet left Ophelia to drown. Hamlet has fake hair and his wife is an immigrant. Hamlet, Hamlet, Hamlet! No one mourns poor Guildenstern, except maybe Rosencrantz and even then it was probably laced with self-pity. In this analogy, Guildentstern and Rosencrantz are played by Ron Paul and Jeb Bush.)
When all you have are sound bites, it is hard to digest and regurgitate an educated opinion—and apparently no one really wants a nine-course, fact-laden meal when they can swallow nuggets of pseudo truth instead. Sadly, the toy that comes with this Un-Happy Meal is whoever is elected. It is the Age of Oblivious and the one with the most likes wins.
Where was I heading with this? I’m not entirely sure. This started out funny and lighthearted and then spazzed into a quasi political rant half-way through. Suffice it to say, there is something dangerous about relying on pat answers or worn-out catch phrases to represent our opinions. It is just too easy. And as the poster hanging on the wall of my social studies classroom in high school said: “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” H. L. Mencken****
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Donald Trump, I’m talking to you.
**Okay, I’m totally making up this reply. I only came up with it much later when my brain gives up all the wittier things I might have said if I only could have thunk them up at the time.
***De Facto is an abbreviation, the long form is: Eligendi asini, de facto producit ventum de inmundo. (For those of you too lazy to use Google Translate: Electing an ass in effect produces a foul wind.)
****And just to prove how dangerously full-circle this reference is, Wikipedia describes H. L. Mencken thus:
“His diary indicates that he harbored strong racist and antisemitic attitudes, and was sympathetic to the Social Darwinism practiced by the Nazis.”
So, I can understand how Donald Trump could cite an opinion which originated with Mussolini without knowing it. But, once you know, you have to realize your words might not be conveying the message you think.