I was apprised by a friend last week of a peccadillo in this space when I was talking about my favorite newspaper movies. How in the world I got Al Pacino mixed up with Dustin Hoffman is beyond me. Maybe it was my distraction over the current state of the world, or maybe, just perhaps, it was our cat Pablo walking across my laptop’s keyboard and typing in the wrong name.
OK, to be fair, it was my boo-boo, and I won’t blame it on the cat, but any way you look at it, it’s all wrong. I mean, Al Pacino is Michael Corleone, Scarface, Roy Cohn, Jimmy Hoffa and Serpico. Whereas Dustin Hoffman is Benjamin Braddock, Tootsie, Rain Man, Jack Crabb … and oh yes, Carl Bernstein.
Try as one might, sometimes one's words get caught in one's eye-teeth. For me, it’s part of going to the trouble of getting a name right, as well as choosing the best word. But these days, that can be a challenge, especially when trying to keep up with new terms and phrases that we’re expected to learn. And these days there's a whole slew of verbiage unknown to us a scant couple of months ago that are now part of our lexicon.
Terms like pandemic, respirator, asymptomatic, ventilator, flattening the curve, social distancing, self-quarantine, presumptive positive, community spread, PPE, and COVID. We're hearing these in everyday conversations now.
If that's not enough, a totally new crop of colloquialisms is emerging in some circles. To wit:
Rona. Short for coronavirus.
Coronials. People who are, and will be, born during the current crisis. In other words, coronababies.
Doom-scrolling. Spending hours on the internet seeking depressing pandemic news.
Covidiot. A person who openly defies distancing rules.
Quarantini cocktail. Alcoholic beverage sipped while staying at home.
Zoom-bombing. An unwanted intrusion on a meeting on the Zoom app.
Caronacation. Goofing off while you’re supposed to be working from home.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. There have been little slang words tossed about generation after generation, and some stick in the vernacular and get included in the dictionary. Some just die from a lack of interest.
They were not boss enough, I guess.
There was a whole raft of new words springing up in the 50s and 60s, from beatniks to hippies to yippies, and then the yippies became yuppies. The Beatles taught us that fab was a word, and when Stevie Wonder sang about things being uptight, he meant things were good, but then it changed to say someone was tense or fussy.
Some of us remember a time when people used to rap with one another. Having a rap session was right on, man. Boy has that slang word changed. Then we learned that when something was good, it was bad, and to confuse things even more, something that was really good was both hot and cool.
One new word came to my attention the other day, or rather a new definition for an existing word; fire. Fire is now something hot, cool, and yes, fab. Well gee whiz, I hope the grammar police don’t come after me for using one slang word to describe another. That would be a fine kettle of fish.
Another word that gets thrown around all too casually these days is the one that refers to a female dog, a word that would’ve gotten my mouth washed out with a bar of soap in an earlier day.
Speaking of the grammar police, when Noah Webster published his first dictionary in 1828, he took it upon himself to take the letter "u" out of colour and honour. He also took one "g" out of waggon and removed the "k" off the end of musick. Plus, he's the one who switched around the “r” and “e” for theatre and centre. Apparently, Webster wanted to Americanize spelling as much as possible. By the time he finished, he had added the words skunk, opossum, squash, hickory, and wigwam to the dictionary, all taken from Native American languages.
I’m not sure how he would feel about frenemy, ginormous, or bromance.
As we speak, there are over 170,000 words in the English language. No doubt that’s because we’ve picked up words from German and Arabic and who knows how many other languages that mean the same as a word we already use, including a ton from Spanish. By and large, the average person knows somewhere around 20,000 words but uses only around 5,000 on a regular basis.
As for LOL, OMG, ICYMI, and OTOH, I say, HUH, as in “huh?”
At the end of the day, and let me make this perfectly clear, on the whole, the bottom line is I try to avoid trite clichés in getting to the heart of the matter. But don’t quote me on that.