Lusty, robust, flexible and changing.
Our American English is ever changing. It is a lusty, robust, flexible and comprehensive communications tool. The printed words can whisper or shout. After more than four centuries, we can still understand the plays of William Shakespeare. Yet, pay attention, and you will see our language change before your eyes and ears.
Some of those changes in words or phrases are bothersome. Notorious in my memory and dictionary connotes a bad reputation. Henry the VIII of England, who managed to chop off his queen’s head as a substitute for divorce, was a notorious husband. The trend nowadays in carelessly written stories or headlines, is to use it as a substitute for famous. Right beside notorious is infamous, as another careless substitute for famous. In my lexicon, infamous takes me right back to Henry VIII.
Another bit of careless usage is the phrase “very unique.” Ugh. Unique suggests one of a kind or in a class by itself. Very unique, very one of a kind? I don’t think so.
Our changing Anglo-Saxon English was modified by Norse invaders, who settled in the Danelaw on the northwest coast of England. They made a different contribution than the Vikings, who settled Norman France and conquered Anglo-Saxon England and introduced French and other Latin-based languages.
“Guys and Dolls,” a great musical, translated Ring Lardner’s vivid writing into stage entertainment. There was no question as to which were the guys and which were the dolls. Our restaurant servers have helped change the language and guys no longer denotes gender. We have not yet settled into these gender changes. Chairman may now be male or female.
Speaking of waitpersons, those important folks who can add much to the enjoyment of a meal, they used to be waitresses or waiters, they have introduced new meaning to the phrase, “No problem.” “May I have another glass of water? “No problem.” I should hope not. I know they mean, “I’ll be happy to refill your glass,” or “My pleasure.” No problem sounds like the plumbing has been fixed, or the utility bill has been paid.
Right along with “no problem” is a phrase of fairly recent vintage that is popular on talk radio and television guest interviews. It is a flag to listeners. “Hey, listen up, I am going to shift direction and start a new paragraph, and tell you what I really think.” You know the phrase: “that being said.” And the speaker is off and running about what they really want to say. It may go something like this. “The president has a lot on his plate and does not always get the best advice, that being said, it is hard to understand how he could have let this get so messed up.”
An extra word popular in the Midwest for starting sentences is “So.”
After a while, you can tune it out when a conversation begins. So, I think I will go to the grocery store. So, we might stop for gas. So, are you planning to go to the ball game?
Anxious. We used to think it meant concerned or uneasy about a course of action. “Anxious about our friend, after his three drinks at the bar, we looked for someone to drive him home.” Now, it often means eager, as in, “We are anxious to visit you this summer.”
If you don’t hang around teenagers, you will just have to trust me on this one. Sick does not mean what you think.
If your grandchildren come for a visit this summer and say your pool is really sick, take my word for it, they are telling you, it is wonderful fun.
I know a lot of you welcomed this column. Just want you to know. No problem.
Derek Dunn-Rankin is chairman of Sun Coast Media Group. He can be reached at derekdr@ sunline.net.