You Use That Word a Lot

Writing as someone who values accuracy and nuance in language (as may be seen from this sentence beginning with ‘writing’ rather than ‘speaking’), Jill Shargaa’s plea for a more restrained use of ‘awesome’ resonates. However, I am not certain if it is correct.

There are two approaches to language, prescriptive and descriptive: at one end of the scale, language is an exchange not an exhalation so requires rules to allow each user to encode and decode the content; at the other end of the scale, language is an imperfect attempt to encode a personal reality so must place meaning at the point of use above objective rules.

As an example of this conflict, while on my way back from the shop earlier today, I reached a one-way side road and began to cross. A car that I had noticed on the main road suddenly turned without signalling and sped towards me the wrong way down the road. Already in the middle of the road and not anticipating this turning, I had no time to plan.

Fortunately the driver had an answer. Slewing around me, he continued down the road while shouting, “Learn to watch where you’re going, you {Redacted}{Redacted}.”

I continued to the far pavement, happy both that I was not feeling run down and that the driver had identified his error and forcefully implanted a reminder not to drive like that again.

While some people might suggest that was not his intent, isn’t my interpretation more satisfying, both as humour and as an assumption about humanity’s ability to seek self-improvement.

As a second example of the conflict between rules and personality, I suspect most of you assumed from the formality of the introductory text that this post would be about abstruse linguistics.

Which of course it is, if you choose to view it that way.


2 thoughts on “You Use That Word a Lot

  1. Bring on the robot cars. I can’t wait until cars drive themselves. People are blithering idiots (myself included) and make constant mistakes while driving more than a ton of metal around.

    Combine that with an unwillingness to admit when you’ve made on of those mistakes, and you get a very dangerous weapon zooming around.


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