Hello! It's The New
by Mad Dog
most slang comes and goes faster than you can say “It’s the bee’s
knees,” there are new words and phrases that become a permanent part
of our vocabulary.
||Language is an
ever-changing thing. Bad can mean good, cool can mean hot, and if you
don’t adapt quickly you’re in trouble because before you know it the
words have reverted to their old meanings. Or entirely new ones.
That’s why it doesn’t pay to try to be too hip, especially if
you’re over the age of 18. And doubly especially if you’re over the
age of 18 and white. Sorry. I mean, a person of no color.
Face it, there’s nothing more
embarrassing than a 40-year-old white guy wearing low-hanging, baggy
jeans, huge gold chains around his neck, and an askew baseball cap
saying, “Word homie, that fly bling-bling is da bomb” at the
PricewaterhouseCoopers company picnic. Especially when he’s a vice
president who thinks askew is the sound of a sneeze. Okay, maybe his
38-year-old wife who’s dressed like Britney — were Britney to wear
size 10 clothes when she was actually a size 14 — is more
embarrassing, but it’s a close call. Just because white suburban
teenagers hang around the mall pretending they’re from Compton is no
excuse for their parents to co-opt and compound the foolishness.
Remember, with luck the kids will outgrow the phase by the time they
graduate Harvard Business School. If you’re in the working world and
haven’t outgrown it, it’s too late. Word up.
dictionary says whatever can be a pronoun, an adjective, or an
interjection, it’s more than that. So much more that it deserves to be
its own part of speech.
While most slang comes and goes faster than you can say “It’s
the bee’s knees,” there are new words and phrases that become a
permanent part of our vocabulary. That’s how dictionaries stay in
business, otherwise we’d all still be using our
great-great-great-grandparents’ copy of the Oxford Middle English
Dictionary and Messrs. Merriam and Webster would be selling bootleg
CDs of it on the street. Not that being included in the dictionary is a
good indicator of anything. They are, after all, filled with words
labeled archaic because they haven’t been uttered by anyone in two
hundred years other than William F. Buckley, Jr., and once he dies
it’s a safe bet they won’t be uttered for at least another two
hundred. You know, outdated words like maculate, fremescence, manners,
and customer service.
It’s one thing for new words to end
up in the dictionary, such as the recently added hottie, dot-commer, and
bazillion, it’s another thing when existing words morph into a new
part of speech deserving of recognition by grammarians, linguists, and
other anal retentive people who won’t admit that their TV ever leaves
PBS. “Whatever,” you probably just uttered, and that’s the perfect
example. While the dictionary says it can be a pronoun, an adjective, or
an interjection, it’s more than that. So much more that it deserves to
be its own part of speech. Dr. Charles Boberg, a linguist at McGill
University in Montreal (motto: “Taking the ‘eh?’ out of
education”) says whatever is a form of punctuation that’s
used to express annoyance or impatience, or used when someone doesn’t
want to give a long answer. Whatever.
Whatever should be the
founding member and cornerstone of the dismissive case. While many words
can be used as a dismissive if one’s tone of voice is sarcastic enough
— think: right, sure, and uh-huh — the use of whatever
doesn’t rely on tone. This isn’t to say that giving it the Clueless
Valley Girl extended syllabic stress (ESS) won’t drive the point
home in a thoroughly embarrassing manner, but rather that it’s not
absolutely necessary. This, of course, makes the use of whatever
the ideal dismissive for people who aren’t fluent in English. Like
course there’s the ubiquitous “Hello!”, as in “Hello! What did
you think I meant?”, which is both a member of the belittling case and
the sarcastic case.
The dismissive case, and whatever in particular, is very
handy because of its multiple uses. It can be used in an argument to
admit you’re wrong without admitting it. It can also be used to tell
someone they’re full of crap without having to explain why. It can
indicate total apathy in a subject, display passive-aggressive behavior,
and take the place of the F-word, all without being completely rude,
subject to fines by the FCC, or eloquent. Don’t be surprised if it’s
used several times during the upcoming presidential campaign debates.
Whatever isn’t the only
dismissive, not by a long shot. While “Don’t go there” can be a
dismissive, its primary use is actually the warning case, which is
closely related to the hostile case. “What’s up with that?” can
also be dismissive, though you more often find it used as a
belittlement. And of course there’s the ubiquitous “Hello!”, as in
“Hello! What did you think I meant?”, which is both a member of the
belittling case and the sarcastic case. Don’t worry, you won’t have
to diagram sentences that use these on tomorrow’s pop quiz.
dismissive case isn’t anything new. In Elizabethan times they used the
phrase “what you will” as our whatever. Even Shakespeare used
it. His play Twelfth Night is actually titled Twelfth Night;
Or, What You Will. Of course were he to write it today he’d call
it Double Six-Pack Flava Time, Whatever! It would take place on 8
Mile on Detroit, Orsino would be Arsenio, the duel would be a hip-hop
showdown, the cross-dressing would be boringly passé, and no one would
actually marry anyone, though they’d all have children with each
other. It would be a hit video on MTV. And 40-year-old white CPAs would
sing it at their company picnics while wearing low-hanging, baggy jeans,
huge gold chains around their neck, and an askew baseball cap.
©2004 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country.
What's up with that?