The Irritations of Modern Life: 24: Slang by Kate Mulvey

LAST WEEKEND my boyfriend and I went our separate ways. Not because he was a philandering rotter or a football-mad Neanderthal; it was more a question of words. "But the bottom line, Kate, is like..."

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?

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Arts and Entertainment
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters performs at Suncorp Stadium on February 24, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans had initially distanced himself from the possibility of taking the job

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
British author Matt Haig

books
Arts and Entertainment
Homeland star Damian Lewis is to play a British Secret Service agent in Susanna White's film adaptation of John le Carre's Our Kind of Traitor

Film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue
    E L James's book Grey is a reminder of how the phenomenon of the best-seller works

    Grey is a reminder of how the phenomenon of the best-seller works

    It's hard to understand why so many are buying it – but then best-selling was ever an inexact science, says DJ Taylor
    Behind the scenes of the world's most experimental science labs

    World's most experimental science labs

    The photographer Daniel Stier has spent four years gaining access to some of the world's most curious scientific experiments
    It's the stroke of champions - so why is the single-handed backhand on the way out?

    Single-handed backhand: on the way out?

    If today's young guns wish to elevate themselves to the heights of Sampras, Graf and Federer, it's time to fire up the most thrilling shot in tennis
    HMS Saracen: Meeting the last survivor of a submarine found 72 years after it was scuttled

    HMS Saracen

    Meeting the last survivor of a submarine found 72 years after it was scuttled
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Martine Wright lost both legs in the attack – she explains how her experience since shows 'anything is possible'

    7/7 bombings 10 years on

    Martine Wright lost both legs in the attack – she explains how her experience since shows 'anything is possible'