On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
OLIVER GOLDSMITH, ANGLO-IRISH playwright, went, like, “The true use of speech is not to express our wants as to conceal them.” Whatever.
How facile this evasive English rolls off the tongue—or spits out of the word processor.
I am influenced in this by reading Maggie Balistreri’s The Evasion-English Dictionary. Here are tidbits gleaned therefrom, together with my usual Internet sleuthing.
My copy is the original one, published in 2003. Erin McKean reviews the expanded 2018 edition: “It’s a pleasurable skewering of evasive language (even when it’s your evasions that are the ones, like, being skewered), done with such gorgeous logic and good humor that you DO feel the terrible urge to read bits of it out loud to those nearest and dearest to you.”
Or to SimanaitisSays readers, such as you.
But. The word “but” receives seven pages of evasive shading: in place of “because” (confusing correlation with causality and, my favorite, what Balistreri calls “a contraction of bu(llshi)t.”
She amplifies, “Whenever I hear a particularly politic use of but followed by a compliment or empty words meant as reinforcement, I visualize certain extra letters buried in the but.”
Balistreri offers a brief bio: “I’m a namer and taxonomist, so most of my time is spent developing hundreds of names and taglines, reading subject glossaries, fussing and organizing terminology, information architecting, and developing classification systems.”
She continues, “I went to grad school for information science (Pratt) and turned my interests into a job I love. I was the solo librarian at Poets House. Before that I was in publishing. I write books; I edit other people’s books. A theme emerges: words words words. I’m where I want to be, mostly, until Ben Mankiewicz tags me in to host Turner Classic Movies.”
Here’s more of her Evasion-English:
Like. “The word in its current use,” says Balistreri, “dates back to the 1950s—it appeared in William Gaddis’s novel The Recognitions in 1955—but was popularized by the 1980s’ Valley Girl, and it still sounds just as dumb…. Look for like, and you’ll track the roots of evasion: What follows is a taxonomy not only of like but also of the vexing undercutting, vague, self-effacing, cowardly filler that passes for speech.”
There are, like, ten pages of variations. Among my favorites: The undercutting like: “I think he meant it like, metaphorically.” The inarticulate like: “I was like, wow.” The multimedia like: “I was so happy, I was like…. (Jump and clap hands.)”
Or, one of mine: The oratory like: “And so he went like….”
The Say-Go Swap. Which brings me to the say-go swap. Consider the verb “to say” and its various synonyms, “to utter,” “to enunciate,” “to verbalize,” “to state,” “to speak,” or even the Victorian “to ejaculate,” this last one possibly banned in some states.
My favorite say-go swap is the rueful subjective one: “Would that I had gone….”
Whatever. Balistreri goes er… writes, “I don’t know what people did before the expression well, duh…. The first person who sputtered well, duh must have felt many generations’ worth of supreme satisfaction.”
“Likewise with the word whatever,” says Balistreri. “Most popularly used as a concession to civility (see The Minced Oath Whatever), out of all the evasions, whatever has the most attitude.”
Balistreri summarizes, “Whatever was popularized by the 1995 movie Clueless. The word has survived so long because of its versatility. It’s petulance in a one-word sentence, sufficient unto itself, and best of all, whatever is one of the few evasions that acknowledges other evasions and can serve as a dismissive retort.”
“Whatever,” I went. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022.