Stock phrases

It’s everywhere, the ‘new speak’ of millennials. A vile mash-up of Americanisms, corporate language and what is laughingly and inaccurately called hipster talk. I find it about as hip as a well polished turd.

‘Like’ is an obvious target. The word drifted over the Atlantic on the Good Ship Facebook, and even 40-somethings use it now. Overheard conversations in public spaces are littered with what amounts to endless verbal ticks. ‘And I was like, “You should go out more”, like, and he was like, “I like, would, if I like, had more like money”‘. No, I don’t like it. I want my language back.

Literally is another one. In fact, it’s (literally) everywhere. I’ve lost track of people who are ‘literally on the bus’ or who ‘literally went out last night.’ Strangely, if the word is omitted sentences would still make perfect sense. Literally. I’m not talking about the apocryphal man in the street either. The last time I heard it was today, on a bus full of otherwise well-spoken university students.

‘In fairness’. I wonder why anyone would take pains to point out how fair they think they are compared to everyone else. It sounds vaguely aggressive. After all, do people use it to suggest that you have just been grossly unfair?

‘Yes, but in fairness …’ Perhaps there is a little-known crime in some obscure legislation, outlawing implied unfairness. If so, please convict me. I might get some peace in the slammer.

Linguists talk about discourse markers: words and phrases acting as conversational organisers and connectors. If I say, ‘So’ or ‘like’ I’m helping you to understand what I’m saying. Verbally reaching out and seeking validation.

It’s supposed to be pleasant and (cough) ‘normal’, but it isn’t. Instead, flurries of sos, likes, wells act as verbal fog, obscuring the very things people are trying to say. They are also downright irritating.

Guests on Melvin Bragg’s Radio 4 broadcasts, many of them scientists, regularly fall into the trap of littering explanations of tricky subjects with ‘so’. ‘So, so … string theory is hard to explain, but it’s like …’ Mother of God! I usually switch channels at this point or, better still, off. A pity, because I might learn something.

I could go on, listing myriad ‘business balls’ speak. Going forward, blue-sky thinking and, that other pernicious Yankee import, ‘Grabbing lunch’. I don’t grab it, I sit down and eat it.

Words reveal our inner selves and psychological furniture, but a culture which ‘grabs’, ‘needs’ and ‘gets’ is greedy and self-serving. ‘You need to do this’. Oh no I don’t. You’re trying to manipulate me. ‘Can I get a coffee?’ Sorry, did I hear you say ‘please’? Thought not.

Perhaps the solution is to abandon my scruples and join in. So, I was like, Oh My God! I need to grab dinner and, like, you know … get out more. Well, in fairness, why not?

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