Popular phrases and expressions in every day language come and go like viruses, and just like the common cold there’s no immunity against picking them up. I’m pretty sure I’ve fallen victim to most: ‘To be honest … ‘ (?), ‘Not being funny … (and then not being) ‘, ‘completely ridiculous’, ‘bizarre’, ’24/7′, ‘stuff like that’, hello pronounced as a sing-song ‘haaahh-lawww’ etc. The current trend is to sprinkle our sentences with single-words that were never there before. They get dropped in and chemically react with the words around them. ‘Super’ and ‘beyond’ help us add emphasis without over-exerting ourselves: super smart/dumb/fast/rich/excited …, beyond furious/grief/stupid/thirsty etc. ‘Literally’ has a less straightforward path. ‘I was literally freezing’, and even ‘I literally died’. ‘Like’ is now all-pervasive.
The newest bad boy on the block is ‘So’. The one-word sentence that precedes a response. Q: ‘Where are we up to with the leaflets?’ A: ‘So. I’ve sent a proof to the printers …. etc’. It provides a split second to gather our thoughts – a less dithery alternative to ‘errr’ or ‘ummm’.
‘… if that makes sense?’ took a savage hold a couple of years back and seemed curiously gender specific. I only ever heard it spoken by women. It would appear unexpectedly at the end of a simple instruction or request, thereby softening or undermining the speaker’s intent, as if a direct statement would be far too harsh. ‘It’s the silver key. You stick it in the lock and turn it clockwise (teeny pause) if that makes sense.’ Why wouldn’t it?
Currently doing the rounds amongst the Londoner 20 somethings is ‘Junah-ahmean?’ (Do you know what I mean?) It peppers my son’s conversation. Nine times out of ten, ‘Junah-ahmean?’ does not require an affirmation. In fact I’d be interrupting if I did. It’s no more than a bit of tribe-affirming, sentence seasoning.
So. If we have no control, and often no awareness of the phrasal bugs we’re picking up and using, what’s the problem? The answer has to be, there isn’t one. Most will follow a natural ark and fade out of our systems just as they crept in. They may jag the ears of the super-aware but with no cure, awareness with acceptance is the only solution. And it’s not all bad. Aussie style rising inflections at the end of sentences caused great consternation when they first hit our shores. But a decade down the line I’m aware I have happily incorporated them into my everyday speech. If you can’t beat ’em, join em?