Tuesday, November 9, 2010


"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak.
By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:36-38
Not to pudify them, but when one spends an inordinate amount of time amongst teenagers and young adults, one begins to forget how to speak English.  While I have noticed this before, the phenomenon arose once again to my consciousness on Saturday after driving three teenage boys around central South Dakota in search of pheasants foolish enough to allow themselves to be shot.  We found twelve such birds, and while doing so, I discovered that "sick"  has nothing to do with one's health nor does it imply (as it recently did) something unattractive, unseemly, grotesque, perverted, or nauseating.  Rather, "sick" has become an adjective emphasizing the good quality in some other thing.  For instance, "Did you see that snowboarder make that jump?  It was sick!"  Likewise, "You should have seen how sick that one spot was.  There were birds everywhere."

A similar evolution has been taking place with the word "sweet," albeit for a longer period of time.  Sweet might describe the quality by which the taste of coffee is changed by sugar.  Seldom does it describe a girls cheery disposition these days.  More often, it functions as modern shorthand by which one expresses one's approval of a thing or an event without suffering the indignity of adjectives with more than five letters.  A typical conversation with a high school student proceeds like this:  "How was the concert last night?"  "It was sweet."  I don't necessarily disapprove of this use of the word.  It mitigates the extent to which I am responsible to remain literate in youth culture.  I get what sweet means, and I do not have to ask a great many succeeding questions trying to grasp the relative value of the experience, and almost anything can be sweet.  I have personally heard this word used to modify each of the following nouns:  Taylor Swift, skiing, snow boarding, my gun, various cars, football games, various universities, several university professors and an interminable collection of other nouns.

I indubitably support those who decry this vilioration of the English language, and am vehemently on the side of those who insist that each bastardization of a word leads us one step closer to a fully Orwellian society.  Such a rant, however, is ill suited for a blog inasmuch as it requires only one sentence.  Kids should be required to read more in school, and they should have to read good literature.  The end.  My principle concern is for myself.  Inundated, as I often am, by this lackadaisical approach to proper spoken English, I worry that I will eventually become incapable of speaking like an educated adult.  

Such silly worries, one might chide, but I hear our language used in utterly indefensible ways in the most inappropriate of circumstances.  An example of this occurs each time I hear someone say to another, "Don't take it personal."  "Personal" is an adjective employed to modify such nouns as hygiene, trainer, and problem.  A well trained English speaker would remark, "Don't take it personally," a sentence wherein an adverb is used to modify the verb "take" by defining the manner in which a thing should be taken.  People even swear badly.  To whit, "Those damn kids!"  Damn is a verb, the action of which is to eternally separate a person from God and his love.  Using the word as a verb, one might say, "Damn those kids!"  In the prior case, however, the appropriate expression would be "Those damned kids!"

Even more exasperating, though, is when one misuses a simple word.  For instance, unsuspecting penitents might bear the brunt of Father's vexation with the misuse of the English language.  I expect that they will never bear the "blunt" of the same.  Such a mistake would not constitute a faux paus, though, unless one were to misuse this idiom while, for example, eating one's salad with the wrong fork.

Luckily, the always pretentious NPR came to my rescue to today with a charming story about a new wildly popular internet site.  I invite you to visit www.savethewords.org.  I am sure you will agree that this webpage is pretty sweet.


  1. Misuse of the language goes hand in hand with the lack of spelling skills; and all trace back to the lack of reading good literature. I finf the most common word to be misspelled is "definitely". I usually see it spelled as defiantely.

  2. As I was reading this rant about how poorly my generation speaks (and I would agree, myself included) I remembered I too used "sweet" to describe being able to see you Wednesday. Regardless, how sweet it is. I will be sure to overuse the word in our next meeting.


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