Posted by JC on December 9th, 2011
Have you noticed that no-one just says ‘Yes’ anymore? The standard affirmative reply seems to be ‘Absolutely!’
We first noticed this during media training sessions. It became impossible for interviewees to answer a question with a simple affirmative. ‘Absolutely’ used to be an intensifier that added real weight to a reply. Now it’s crept into everyday language and taken over:
‘Are you going to the supermarket?’
Then we have the wonderful old biblical word ‘awesome’, which for centuries used to mean something that filled one with awe – the face of God, the power of the weather, the breathtaking beauty of Nature. Today?
‘I’m cooking sausages for tea.’
So we’ve taken two of the strongest words in our vocabulary and watered them down until they carry no more weight than ‘yes’ or ‘that’s nice’.
These two words aren’t alone in being stripped of their original power and meaning. There aren’t too many news bulletins that go by without us being told that something is ‘horrific’ or ‘iconic’ or ‘historic’.
‘There was an horrific accident in the High Street today, when an elderly pedestrian was grazed by a passing bicycle.’
‘Roger is the Ohakune man who created the iconic giant carrot.’
‘It was an historic moment when Trevor scored his first try in college rugby.’
Where did the ‘an’ come from, for Pete’s sake? It should have changed to ‘a’ the day we started pronouncing the initial [h]. But we have ‘an horrific’, ‘an hysterical’, ‘an historic’ and on occasions even ‘an hotel’. As Miss Piggy would say, ‘Pretentious? Who moi?’
But to get back to Absolutely Awesome… We do this all the time, of course. We take words, use and overuse them until we debase their currency. Conversely, we’re just as likely to take insipid words like ‘cool’ and give them a whole new status. Or simply change their meaning:
‘Sonny Bill’s hot!’
‘And totally cool!’
‘My mum’s taking us to Disneyland!’
And what about the new words entering our language? When the Miss Piggy brigade started wrestling with ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ I felt a bilious attack coming on. However, I have an affection for rollicking newcomers like ‘humungous’ and ‘ginormous’.
I may want to take a gun to the telly when the next ‘horrific’ accident comes along and I refuse to worship giant carrots, whatever their status, but there’s something intriguing about our need to intensify common speech by hijacking the great and mighty words from our lexicon and then inventing new ones to replace them. What will they come up with next? If it’s as good as ‘humungous’ that will be absolutely awesome!
Absolutely Awesome post Brian, possibly even an historic post.
Yes I get very grumpy with the overuse of the word awesome in particular – I notice it is prolific amongst youth workers – ” have an awesome day” actually no , think I’ll have an ok day thanks.
Reminds me of attending an intro meeting at Landmark Forum (we call it Kentucky Fried Therapy)
I asked the presenter what I would get out of it – he went on and on for 5 mins describing a typically day for him, from morning to night everything damn thing was awesome, amazing brilliant, including his breakfast. At the end of this rant my younger brother got up and said ” What if you just wake up and think F… ” Had to leave , couldn’t stop laughing.
Yeah, Nah, youse are doing a absolutely awesome job Bro. True that.
awesomely iconic piece Brian
I, personally, feel that as a pledged oath-forsworn to-thine-own-self-be-true individual, myself, I am in complete and total
agreeance with you.
I, honestly, will swear on my stack of my personal Enid Blyton books, that I have NEVER, EVER in my whole life in its entirety, have I, personally, made the ugly bug-eyed affirmative utterance of that two-handed head clutcher:
And — when I hear Labour’s spokeswoman on Education (yes, “Education”), refer to something she disagrees with, as A. nonsense, I want to give her a stinging slap.
I’m all for new and hip words. They enliven and enrich our language, and become absorbed into our modern-day vernacular. However, one thing is for certain — as certain as the Black Caps will cop another hiding in Hobart — they do have a shelf life. And with the passing of time — these words, phrases and expressions, lose their flavour and hip-ness; only to appear as being clichéd, jejune and limp. And worse, irritating to the ear.
Once words become debased they have to be re-intensified so we get such phrases as “toadily ossum”.
How about degrees of uniqueness: “fairly unique”, “very unique” and so on? Either something is
unique or it isn’t.
Then there are the obligatory intensifiers. I recall that “Ebola virus” always had to have “the
deadly” attached to it and “Christchurch” often has “earthquake ravaged” preceeding it.
O tempora! O mores! – or am I being pretentious?
You are so right. I was going to chill out but that’s just so stink. To be uber cool you do need style and use words that amplify meaning. The amplification is inversely relative to your lack of understanding the word’s meaning. So no one understands you. Sweet.
Awesome column, Brian.
One thing re the “an” in front of “h”. Of course we do say “an” in front of “honest”, “honourable”, “heiress” and so on because they start with “h” only in writing, not in sound. The lay expression for this is that the h is silent but that’s actually misleading since pronunciation does not flow from spelling (see tough, cough, bough, through, and though). In fact “honest” begins with the same phoneme as “operation” and “heiress” with the same phoneme as “airline”. The ignorant, thinking they are being posh (rhymes with “gauche”) say “an hotel” and “an horrific injury” but, as you say, they are being pwententious (rhymes with bankers). Cheers
A split lip or a bloody nose? “There was carnage on the rugby field today…..”
My father was at Passchendaele. Now THAT was carnage.
You could add the word ‘disaster’ to your list used to described everything from an earthquake killing 10,000 people to the All Blacks losing a test match and a ship running aground spilling a few globules of oil.
Choice post, Judy. Sick, even.
Yes to all of the above. I could compile a large dictionary of abused words.
I gave up on “phenomenon” and “tragedy” long ago.
My current hate is “earthquake prone”.
National Radio clearly have no sub editorial “resources”(another of my pet hates).
Usually, in a piece about Christchurch, Natrad prattles about “earthquake prone buildings”.
This is utter nonsense.
An area may be more likely to experience earthquakes in comparison to other areas.
It could be stated that some areas are more prone (ie more likely) to experience earthquakes.
To state that a certain building is “earthquake prone” is garbage.
It is portentous. Sigh.
Another phrase is “lock down”. It is a specific term used in prisons to define specific, and usually, dangerous situations.
It does not apply to news media blackouts. It does not apply to police blockades around possible crime scenes.
Portentous prattle used to suggest the prattler has something more important to say than is actually the case.
The delivery of straightforward facts without embellishment appear to be beyond the reach of our so called “journalists, reporters, correspondents, editors, commentators et al”.
It is hardly surprising they are known as the chattering class.
Although Jeff Spicoli didnt originate “totally awesome “he definitely helped to popularise the term.
Absolutely. So, going forward, next time you take a gun to the telly, remind Judy to put a bomb under you.
I think it’s partly to do with teenagers: the little buggers invent their own jargon and nekt minnit we olds just go with the flow.
The problem is when broadcasters are allowed to make stupid errors and affectations in grammar and pronunciation and still get to keep their jobs – presumably because their superiors are just as uneducated as the presenters and the writers.
A woman on a Radio Live news spot this week referred to the thug who attacked the lady in the Hobsonville RSA and said he “dragged her across the floor and bounded her before making off” (with the loot). And there’s a goon on ZB sports news who normally pronounces the word “a” as though he’s spelling it (“eh”), even when it preceeds a word beginning with a consonant – unless he’s in a hurry, when he pronounces it correctly (as “uh”). Even Paul Holmes (I know – hardly a world authority on grammar, but even he ought to know better) says “yiz” meaning “you” when addressing two or more speakers, and says “there’s” (more deals in store) when “there’re” would be correct. I guess the company policy is to not realise there’s a problem, but it just gives me an ‘eadache.
There’s serious worry in UK because the regional accents are gradually being lost to “estuary English”: suvvern English broadcasts of Sarf-East England-based programmes which are neutralising local accents to the common bad, innit? I fink it orter be sorted art.
The same applies here in that the shocking grammar employed by rough-as radio and TV presenters will eventually be adopoted by us all. Meaning, you all. Except maybe Brian, and a few more of yiz.
Like your histrionic examples, but dying to know… when does the pain go away?
Rugger-head Trev is easy to spot, and it’s not too hard to see Don, unceremoniously thrust aside by Act’s new superlightright cavalry, but who is Roger?
Humungous the carrot Roger dug,no less. NZ’s idol of the right was truly acornic, if you get the oak.
Pricked on no doubt by the unfortunate shape of the carrot, National’s new enthusiasm for ‘by the right quick march,’ reinforces the unfortunate connotations Roger’s name has for our people today.
@ peterlepaysan: The Building Act actually refers to buildings as ‘earthquake-prone’ – so blame the legislative draughtspeople (who should know better!)
Could we add “totally unique” (or any other qualifier before the word unique)?
@ Richard Aston, RogerG, Michael Field, Peter Calder, ak
It is not only Brian who pens awesome posts.
Apparently I’m awesome: http://wp.me/sAuht-awesome
“It is not only Brian who pens awesome posts.”
How true. The above-named are all attention-deficient: the post was not from Brian but from his “other half/her indoors”.
Were you in your bare feet when you wrote this?
The decline of spoken English standards among those under 40-is may be due to a confusion of ‘celebrity’ for ‘role model on all matters.’ Once a person has received the blessing of a television job or being interviewed on TV, that person is perceived by many to be authorised in all matters, not just in the area of sports etc.
Teachers of English today have to waste time in claiming their authority in order to counter this trend.
People nearly always say the plural phenomena when talking about one phenomenon; and criteria for one criterion. I can just about accept this as a natural evolution of the English language. But unnecessary intensifiers are, and always will be, an abomination (and not an absolute abomination).
I’m sick of the weather bombs someone keeps dropping on us. Give me a good old storm any day.
What about “akshully”?
Its truely most lamentible the declineing standards of todays english from our children. I shudder in horror when I look at my childs schools news letters and see so many spelling and gramatical errors from the school principle whose actually composed it. It does seem as todays school teachers are no better than their student’s?
How can we expect out childrens’ understanding off the correct principals, yet alone the fundamentals of English to be up-scaled when their own teacher’s are found to be so wonting. Please can someone give me some advise?
If something is not done soon to arrest the dramatic decline of standards it could very well lead to a deterioration in not only written English but spoken English also. I put much off the blame on to much text-ing, kid’s get into very bad habits by their short cuts and slang like spelling please as pleez etc. Hopefully this topic will call all those of us who love the English language in it’s most precise and accurate form to act as gospels and lead a crusade against sloppyness. It all starts in side the class room.
As irritating as many of the above examples undoubtedly are, is there anything to rival people being ‘impacted’ by something – unless of course the thing in question lands on them?
Whatever happened to ‘affect’?
Let me add to your list: ‘fire fight’! Why don’t those rebels/terrorists/forces try using guns? They’re MUCH more efficient!
“Gunned down” – I think that’s cowboy speak for “shot”; and brand new, ever since the TV programme (but never before) we suddenly have an arrest in a 30 year old ‘cold case’! Now tell me, anyone – why tell us it’s a cold case whilst telling us it’s 30 years old? It’s as tautologous as a baby lamb.
Two examples spring to mind:
What are we actually (sorry – ‘akshully’, in today’s parlance) getting when we buy a “quality product”? I thought ‘quality’ required another word such as ‘top’ or ‘lower’ to make it have sense.
The other made me cringe when I heard a TV presenter describe Christchurch as having been “totally devastated”. Um, excuse me, but why are there still buildings standing? What about Hiroshima or those Japanese villages post tsunami?
I’m sick of the ‘stricken Rena’. I understand that it is stricken, but I’d appreciate if another adjective could be used occasionally.
Humble apologies. It was you, not his indoors, who posted.
It was still awesome …
Back to your original point, Brian: The reason no-one says “yes” is that they have been conditioned by watching the “Yes Minister” segment on “7 Days”. For the uninitiated, the politican-guest has to undergo an interview without uttering a “yes” or “no”. Plenty of “Abosulutely!” or “Not to my knowledge!” instead.
I mean “Absolutely”!
We have just had an ABSOLUTELY AWESOME event.
New Zealand has beaten Australia, on Australian soil, for the first time since 1986.
I think that does justify superlatives.
Oh yes – “a HUGE 25% OFF”.
I thought all 25% OFFs were the same size.
@Phil Stewart: “Back to your original point, Brian.”
It was Judy’s point, not Brian’s.
Esther, you’re post was surreal! It lead me to wonder weather we need some new innovations in our schools to improve writeing however I think poor pronounciation is the worse problem. If we can fix that it will be “all good” (as our general manager used to say – repeatedly!)
We sat peacefully in a coffee shop as a twit nearby set fire to a car, and then a local put it out with a fire extinguisher. Ten minutes later the police and fire brigade arrive and start panicking. We got up and wandered home when tha cameras arrived. That evening on the news “Cuba Mall shoppers were frozen in terror and central Wellington was in chaos…..”. No! it was all over in one minute and the twit was quite peaceful, after the event. The media made it into a circus and only the police and firemen were running around like headless chickens. I believe 10% of the news, perhaps!