Those who know me well know that I like to call myself a linguist, primarily because I simply enjoy judgemental commentary about my linguistic observations that start with the phrase “As a linguist, …”
I am also the only person I know who can enthusiastically say linguist three times in a sentence.
Well, as a linguist, I have noted that in the English language, we have socially agreed on only using top-shelf expressions to indicate something being very good or very bad. Let me elaborate.
Take the word ‘awesome’. If you took the time to truly comprehend the meaning of this word (I’ve done it for you), the only time you could possibly use it was if you saw the Earth from outer space with your own eyes. If you are in awe, that’s a pretty big statement. Yet, we use awesome for life’s most insignificant things, like a sandwich or the occurrences of last night’s party. The same trend can be used for ‘amazing’, which again appears to be a word more suited to Jesus turning water into wine (which, incidentally, is also really awesome).
I noticed that if we say something is ‘good’ or ‘nice’, it almost means it’s bad. Imagine a conversation in which one person asks another what they thought of the most recent Tarantino movie, and the response was ‘it was good’. You’d be completely unimpressed, as the answer you need in order to go watch it is most likely something along the lines of “it was fucking unbelievable!”
In addition, we justify bad decisions by putting it into such a global context that would make almost anything justifiable. For example, my roomie recently thought about ordering a burger, clearly an unhealthy food choice, and then concluded that it would be alright by saying “I mean, eating a burger wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world”. This is undeniably true; on the list of worst things in the world I would imagine the consumption of burgers to rank somewhere in the middle, but if I compared all my actions with the worst things in the world, I could get away with almost anything. For example, I could get a tattoo of my own name, which is definitely one of the worst things you could do, but it’s still less offensive than purposely kicking someone else’s infants at the supermarket.
I am no exception and guilty of the same behaviour, although it is common knowledge that most things I say are sarcastic remarks that everyone who doesn’t know me well enough misunderstands as the truth, for instance when I say things like “I love your new haircut!”.
That is, of course, absolutely ridiculous. Love is a big word, surely not something that should be used to describe the result of a third party’s handywork with a pair of scissors. There are few things I love in this world (e.g. beer) and I base this feeling on whether I would cry for the rest of my life if it was gone. If your hair was gone, or you changed your hairdresser, I would be just fine. In fact I couldn’t be more indifferent. But, I can see that my statement of love is confusing you into thinking I care deeply about your grooming routine and the help you hire in assisting in the same, so I have made the decision to be slightly less enthusiastic towards menial things.
So from now on, if I notice you got a haircut, I may just say ‘haircut?’ – ‘yes!’ – ‘nice!’.
It means I think it looks good, without giving you the impression I couldn’t live without your haircut, or have an unhealthy relationship to hair.
The same applies to ‘things I hate’. Hate is equally strong and should be reserved for things that have a deeply disturbing impact on me or the world. I really dislike the taste of okra, but I don’t spend my time thinking about ridding the world of it or crafting ways of taking hateful revenge towards this gooey and disgusting vegetable that ruined several meals in my life. From now, if you ask me “Don’t you hate it when people send you candy crush requests on Facebook??”, I’d say “No, I don’t hate that. But I hate my generation’s ignorance to the environmental consequences of wasting energy on shit like that.”
I can see that I won’t make many friends with my new attitude, but that’s the sacrifice a true linguist must make. With these words, dearest reader, I wish you a good new year, because happiness is too big a word for me to use lightly on such a cliché.