Worthless Words


Loyal readers of this space know that periodically I will go off the deep end on the use, or rather the misuse, of words and phrases in our “enlightened” society. One of the most bothersome phrases to my ears in recent years has been the “I was like” phrase, which started with young inarticulate teens, but has now been embraced by all age groups and education levels throughout the world, it appears. The phrase, “was like” seems to be a replacement for the words “said” or “thought” and is used most often when relating an event or telling a story. For example, “He wanted me to get back into the car and I was like, are you kidding me? And he was like, no I’m serious. And I was like, hello?”
Imagine what Shakespeare would have sounded like if it had been performed in that style. Romeo and Juliet: “Juliet was like, O Romeo, Romeo! Where’s Romeo? You know?” Or Hamlet:  “And I’m like, to sleep perchance to dream. Whoa, that’s the rub.”
Can you imagine how that famous scene in Gone with the Wind would be described by people of today? “Scarlet was like, so where are you gonna go? So what are you gonna do, dude? And he is like, I am so not into you, my dear.”    
Speaking of the movies, there are typical movie expressions that bother me. In the movies you hear certain expressions in dialogue that no one in real life ever says. Have you ever, in real life, heard anyone say in total seriousness, “Let’s high-tail it out of here?” Or “I think I’ll rustle up some grub?” Unless you were the dialogue coach for Gabby Hayes you probably never did. Or what about, “Darling, don’t be facetious.” Have you ever heard a real person say that in normal conversation? I don’t think even Bette Davis talked that way in her real life.
Then there is what I call Bogart-speak. That’s when you say lines like, “I stick my neck out for nobody.” And “I wash my hands of the whole business.” And “You thought you’d put one over on me, but I fooled you at every turn.” “Nobody makes a monkey out of me and gets away with it.” Sentences like those definitely qualify as Bogart-speak.   
Of course these are all expressions commonly used in the old movies, but new movies are just as phony in their own way. Like the frequent use of vulgarity in everyday speech. This may come as a shock to many Hollywood screenwriters, but the vast majority of the population for the most part still manages to speak in sentences that don’t rely on the “f” word being inserted at every opportunity. But, sad to say – if Hollywood hammers it home often enough it won’t be long before everyone will be talking like that on a regular basis.
There are some slang terms that are an actual improvement, believe it or not. For instance, hardboiled detective slang. Nothing is as on-the-nose graphic as the way the hoods and dicks spoke in the old dime novel pulps from the 20’s and the gangster movies from the 30’s. Miskatonic University Press published a glossary of these hardboiled terms that are a pure delight. It features sentences like:
“I jammed the roscoe in his button and said, ‘Close your yap, bo, or I squirt metal.’” “The flim-flammer jumped in the flivver and faded.” “You dumb mug, get your mitts off the marbles before I stuff that mud-pipe down your mush-and tell your moll to hand over the mazuma.”
“The sucker with the schnozzle poured a slug but before he could scram out two shamuses showed him the shiv and said they could send him over.”
See? Now that’s what I call slang with style! Sentences that are descriptive, hard-edged, and have plenty of attitude, and not a dirty word in any of them. I contend that a statement like “Shut your stinkin’ pie hole” has more edge to it than using four letter words to say the same thing. 
It’s also more fun to say. It certainly is more fun to say, “The bruno turned the heat up, gave me the buzz and nailed me” as opposed to “I was like, hello?”

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