Friday, August 31, 2012

Student of Language

As a writer and a wordsmith, I've always been aware of how people use language. I am fascinated by the colloquial phrases that we utter and where we learn them. As I've become older, I've been able to watch words change definition and enter the mainstream of language with totally different meanings than they previously possessed.

Lately we've been checking out houses to buy, with a probable move in our future, and my husband and I chuckle over rooms that might be used as his "man cave." This is a fairly recent addition to our language base (maybe in the last year or two) but everyone knows what you mean now when you talk about that place where menfolk park their comfy recliners, hang their moose antlers, and tune their televisions to sports or war movies.

I remember the decade, and probably even the year (early 1980's - where I lived) when the definition of the word "gay" changed from being carefree and happy to what it means today.

I remember (about fifteen years ago) when the term "sucks" changed from a sexual connotation to just meaning something is bad or awful. Ask anyone older than about fifty and they'll nod their heads.

And as a writer, I have to laugh when euphemisms for the "F" word now seem perfectly appropriate in certain instances, and in certain novels for young people, even down to middle grade. I'm talking about flippin', freakin', frickin', friggin' or whatever other generic version you choose. (And trust me, middle grade writers constantly ask each other: is it okay to use this word in my novel? Apparently so.)

But let's not talk about cussing. The phrase that I'm hearing over and over right now (and indeed everyone seems to be using it - even my mother) is, I now proclaim, the new "Whatever." (Because really, who says that anymore?)

Ready? Ready? (Yes, I bet you've even used it yourself.) Here it is:

It is what it is.

Because really, that about covers it. *grin*

What phrase are you hearing these days, that just came into your language base? Please share.


Lynne Kelly said...

Yes, I've been wondering where "It is what it is" came from! Kind of meaningless. Of course it is what it is.

One new phrase I've heard recently, like from my daughter, is "Butt hurt." (Which means you're offended).

Linda Benson said...

Those kids. They're just ahead of us every step of the way. *headbang*

Patricia said...

I LOVE words too, Linda, and really enjoyed this post. It is really weird how words metamorphose into something so different than we remember them "back when". How can that be? And having a 13 and 18-year-old, I'm inundated with the latest sayings. I say whatever all the time. I better change that.

Linda Benson said...

Ha ha, Patti, we certainly don't want to date ourselves. Heaven forbid we utter "groovy" or something. I do still say "bummer" all the time (and not in reference to orphan lambs.) I hope that doesn't peg me from the 60s. But all I can say about that is "it is what it is."

DT said...

Bad things sucked back in 1986, on the East Coast! TV and movies influence language too - think of all the catchphrases like 'Holy crap' (thanks, Peter Griffin) which become popularised by repeated use.

Martin Bodenham said...

I love the way language evolves over time. The phrase I hear a lot at the moment is "reaching a tipping point". I cannot read a newspaper without seeing this today.



Linda Benson said...

Derek - I agree. When a phrase starts being used in movies and television, it gains a semblance of respectibility, and slowly (or quickly) slips into our daily jargon. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure Holy Crap slipped into Six Degrees of lost. *grin*

Martin and Derek - I am more than ready for the phrase "it sucks" to have reached the tipping point, and slide over the other side.