The Irritations of Modern Life: 24: Slang by Kate Mulvey
Wednesday 06 January 1999
I stopped him right there. It was no good; the snoring and the dirty socks I could put up with, the fluent cliche I could not. No matter how good he looked in his Kenzo suit and Gucci loafers, when he started speaking like an American salesman, he might as well have been Quasimodo. And yes, I know I sound like a verbal pedant, but it is not a question of fastidiousness, but one of aesthetics. The phrase, "the bottom line" is derived from American business-talk and refers to the last line on a financial statement. This may be appropriate to businessmen, discussing profit and loss, but it sounds clumsy and inelegant when out of context. This American inspired sloven-speak is just plain ugly.
The great offender, which has slipped insidiously into the English language, is that ubiquitous word "like", an Americanism that has become so entrenched in our everyday speak that we don't even know it's there - it is delivered without any meaning and acts as a verbal Polyfilla.
There have always been slang and subversions of so-called correct language. The beatniks of the Fifties sat around listening to progressive jazz with their own hip jargon. "Stay cool, daddy-o" was not just lazy speak, but a conscious expression of freedom from the Establishment, which sorted out the rebels from the "squares".
In the Sixties, when young people went around with a flower in their hair and the greeting "right on, brother", it indicated solidarity. Youth- speak has always tried to pervert the norm. Words such as "bad" and "wicked", straight from the hip-hop culture in America, are crucial to the demarcation of the adult and teenage worlds.
Dumb speak, however, has nothing to do with a tribal subcultural language or a Sixties cry for individualism. It is unconscious, disrupting the flow of our everyday language like a nervous tic. These verbal glitches spew from our mouths like ectoplasm, a sort of ungrammatical disease, spreading unknowingly like a cold virus.
Ameri-speak is everywhere. Turn on the radio or television and you may as well be on planet Thicko. Instead of aspiring to high presentation standards, it has become socially desirable to sound like a yob. Now, dare to speak standard English and you are considered to be pompous and elitist. Recently, as a guest on a daytime chat show, I managed to come across as a stuffed shirt because I hadn't mastered the art of "pop" speak.
After the introduction, the producer strode up to me; I sounded too nobby for the audience, she said, standing there in combat trousers and Puffa jacket. So, instead of sounding like a disgruntled Miss Jean Brodie, all tight-lipped and strait-laced, I shall fling my dictionary to the wind and get with the programme. Because, like, at the end of the day, if you can't beat them, join them - y'know what I mean?
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Asteroid narrowly scrapes past Earth: how to watch the closest space rock for decades as it flies by
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
- 4 British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
- 5 Watch Richard Dawkins read his own hatemail: 'I hope you do get sodomised by satanic monkeys in hell'
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
30,000 reasons why the rhetoric on immigrants claiming benefits can stop now