A Look At Life: Choose Your Words

5th October 2012

Sounding Off About Slang

Kathy Miller

…Yesterday right, I'm like, waiting to buy my ticket. And I'm, like, whoah, get me on that train, I so don't want to miss it and I'm like, hey, I'm gonna be late for my appointment-uh?

For anyone aged over 40, a simple translation of the above might read: ‘I was queuing to buy a ticket and I really didn't want to miss my train and be late for my appointment’ – related in the past tense because it took place yesterday and said in an even tone indicating that this is a statement, not a question requiring a rising inflection.

Oh, and mercifully, there isn't a ‘like’ or a ‘so’ in sight. Or earshot.

Pass me my Zimmer frame and copy of The Oldie before you show me to Pedants' Corner, will you? That's pedants in the plural possessive, with an s apostrophe, by the way.

What is it about young people and their inability to use the past tense, or the way they punctuate every sentence with like, or emphasise everything with so, even when they are using a negative, as in: I so don't like this?

Even in my trade, journalism and PR, whose practitioners really should know better, very few young wordsmiths, ostensibly educated to degree level, know what to do with an apostrophe. Many have become so wedded to their spell checker that their grammar has gone out of the window. Do they know the difference between there, their and they're, let alone between discreet and discrete? Do they heck. Imply and infer? Don't make me laugh. Less and fewer? Forget it. Compare with and compare to? Oh, please.

Actually, it's not just young people whose lingo annoys me. At a recent family gathering, a 51-year-old cousin peppered his conversation with words such as baseline, reference and showcase – all used as verbs. He may be an accountant in Leeds, but I think that holiday in Florida went to his head. When he runs you through his working day, he talks of getting to first base or needing to compete with hard-hitters. He takes a rain check if he has to cancel a drink at the pub.

When I ask after his health, he is good. When he has finished eating, he is done. He no longer talks to someone, rings them or meets them, he speaks with them, calls them up and meets with them, often on the weekend, when instead of going to the country, he gets outta town. If he needs to broach a tricky subject with someone, he has the conversation and when he shows you his new terrace, sorry, deck, he invites you to check out the makeover. He boasts about his plans to grow his business. Silly me, I thought one grew tomatoes.

Families and friends have become support networks, everything he buys is now a must-have and he no longer leaves his daughter with her grandparents or suppresses his dislike of Hawaiian shirts on dress-down Fridays; instead he parks his child and his feelings. When he parks his car, he parks up.

Imagine my shock when he described being pissed with a colleague during a meeting. (Apparently pissed with is acceptable US-speak for being angry with, not a vulgar term for drunkenness – do keep up at the back). Naturally, he referred to his work colleague. (Is there another type of colleague?) This is his boss, someone I would work for, but my cousin works to him.

Oh help me. I don't do modern speech. In fact, I really object to the previous sentence.

I could go on – but maybe I should chillax and accept that we all resort to jargon or shorthand, especially at work. After all, a specification has long been a spec and perquisites such as company cars are always perks. A controversial programme is lawyered before being broadcast, if you give a project to consultants, you outsource it and when it's finished, it is delivered. Even grumpy old freelancers like me talk of hotdesking.

Okay, so I tolerate Americanisms in the office, but I still object to trendy or sloppy language in my spare time. When a waiter asked me recently if I had been menued yet, I was so shocked I nearly threatened to work my way through the entire wine list. Just as well he didn't tell me to enjoy.

Whatever. After all this moaning, I'm exhausted. Perhaps I need to rest up.

Kathy Miller would be delighted
to hear from any eagle-eyed readers
who spot errors of spelling, grammar
or punctuation in this article.
Email editorial2@optimamagazine.co.uk
with your observations

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