Monday, 6 August 2012


Here are three verbal tics propagating themselves through our culture like E-coli, against which I hereby declare myself at war:


This ugly neologism is now an annoying constant in our language as a substitute for ‘later’ or ‘in the future’. It violates a cardinal rule of speech, which is: do not replace a perfectly good, simple word with a mouthful of prissy bullshit for no reason. WTF with ‘moving forward’?? Suddenly we’re entering a time capsule every time we refer to the future? If not, there is no need to describe the future in terms of motion given that our non-Einsteinian, everyday, popular universe treats past-present-future as fixed categories, which is really useful if you want to get your bills paid without a late fee.


According to the Merriem-Webster, the verb astonish comes from the Vulgar Latin tonare = thunder.

This recurring sin comes from the art world, which is big business in our self-conscious town. But critics seem to think that because they are thunderstruck, we must also be. I can’t count the number of times I have read that such-and-such a work of art, film, writing, or music is ‘astonishing’—upon which I immediately drop the review and refuse to hear anything more about it.

The overuse of this verb stems from sheer laziness or to use the old cliché, a failure to show rather than tell. If I am instructed that a work in question bowls one over, I must then scramble to be bowled or recognize that I am a hopeless Philistine who does not understand Ahhhhhrt. A diligent critic, rather than simply trumpet how ‘astonishing’ a piece of work is, will explain the particular skill deployed and lead the reader through its appreciation, recognizing that not everyone is equally sophisticated in the act of viewing or listening or reading. This useless crutch is a neon sign exclaiming, ‘I AM A PRETENTIOUS AESTHETE! AVOID ME!’

There are exceptions. Certain things can fairly be described as ‘astonishing’, such as witnessing people jumping out of the Twin Towers on 9/11 or running into an escaped wildebeest on Lexington Avenue. Most works of art, however, are just nicely done and can be reviewed without recourse to breathless exaggeration.


So far, ‘no problem’ is the crime of the decade. It is a perfectly fine phrase to toss off when you want to say, ‘Even though you just stepped on my foot in the subway, it really is okay because I know you didn’t mean it as you promptly apologized’. It makes sense and is appropriate when and only when the speaker wants to express that an error has been committed by his or her interlocutor but that it is excused and dismissed.

It is NOT equivalent to the time-tested and cordial phrase, ‘YOU’RE WELCOME’, which means something completely different, i.e., ‘The action for which you are thanking me I have done gladly, and I am content that it pleased you’.

Why has this subtle but significant change completely taken over human interaction (at least here in New York—is the phenomenon nationwide)? Can we no longer recognize that people see, speak to and cooperate with others dozens of times per day and that the social lubricant of formal speech has an important role to play in this intercourse? If I say ‘thank you’, am I now admitting existential guilt? Am I a chump for interrupting my text messaging and iPhone game-playing long enough to acknowledge that a favor has been done?

I sat next to a young lady in a theater last week who epitomized the oblivious narcissism of a large and growing sector of our society. While the play was in progress, she pulled some sort of hair cosmetic out of her handbag and proceeded to apply it to her golden tresses for nearly five minutes. I was tempted to address this sudden conversion of a public space into her private toilet by leaning over to whisper, ‘If you decide to urinate, please alert me so that I can look away’. I have no doubt that she would have replied perkily: ‘No problem!’


Anonymous said...

Awesome !


Anonymous said...

how about the uses and abuses of "literally"? I mean, literally, you hear people using the word all the time, literally, to mean exactly the opposite!