Our Lives

Our Lives: Fascinated by what we say and how we say it

February 9, 2013 


Christine Gilbert.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

Language has always fascinated me. Words and meanings change over the years making for an interesting study in cultural and societal changes. For example, in 2001, the word “Doh!” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Defined as “expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish,” the word’s inclusion demonstrated how television affects our speech, somewhat in the same way that those Fiat ads starring Charlie Sheen give new meaning to the term “house arrest.”

Shakespeare was particularly poetic when he referred to “making the beasts with two backs” or “Mine eyes smell onions.” I used the second phrase in the kitchen the other day and even the dogs looked at me strangely. But his “Cry havoc, and let loose the dogs of war” lead to the song “Who let the dogs out?” While a frightening adaptation of Shakespearean lore, the listener never really knows who did the dastardly deed unless you follow the quote back to Antony of “Julius Caesar.”

There are several phrases I find annoying. “Let’s do lunch.” How does one “do” lunch? I don’t “do” food in any manner outside of consumption. Given the loose definition of the euphemism “do,” I simply cannot bring the word “lunch” and “do” together in the same sentence. It’s like the expression, my “People.” “I will have my people call your people.” My people are either under the age of 12 or covered with fur, making phone answering and organizational skills at a minimum on a good day. I used to subscribe to People magazine. If those people are the people that people are talking about, I just don’t think that I would fit in with the Jennifer Aniston crowd. She has an entourage and “people” or the even more shortened version, “Peeps,” which is a tasty Easter candy. My dogs could count as an entourage if I walk them as a troika, but as for Peeps, I understand that I can now have up to six chickens in Wake County. Somehow, I just can’t imagine Jennifer Aniston being followed around by six Rhode Island Reds.

Then we have initials, such as BFF and OH. These refer to people with whom you share a great fondness. BFF is not an interchangeable acronym; this is one specific person in your life whom you would not exchange for anything. Both can be used to refer to the same person: my “OH” is my “BFF” (Best Friend Forever). OH means “other half” which is the exact determined monetary value should you and your “BFF” split, so there is a truth to the reference of your spouse being your “OH” if a divorce lawyer is involved. But if this lawyer says to you, “Let’s do lunch,” it means you are buying. Pray no “peeps” are included.

I admit my guilt of using the initials “lolz.” While this abbreviation use to mean “lots of love,” it now means “lots of laughs.” This is appropriate for both the Internet or texting; it has no place on any type of language arts essay or get well cards. The addition of the “z” over the use of an “s” to demonstrate plural is a way of determining how important you are on the Internet. I am Internet savvy. I even call the Internet, the intertubez or the internetz because I am just that cool. This trend of using the letter ‘z’ as a way of expressing multitudes must be annoying to editors and language arts teachers alike; however, if the Queen’s English can substitute “s” for “z,” then I do not see why we can not do the reverse. After all, you realise how important the internetz is when looking up labour statisticz.

While many groan at language and its ever-changing relevance to society, think about some of the words that have now been incorporated into language without question. “Apps” for applications to be used on your cellphone. “Going Dutch” never had anything to do with the Netherlands. And finally, the infamous Bart Simpson statement, “Don’t have a cow!” as a way of expressing “Take a chill pill” or “Be cool,” or as Gertrude in Hamlet would say, “Calmly, good Laertes.”

As we all must do to adjust to our ever expanding expressions regarding the little things in life.


News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service