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Words That Have No Meaning

I’m so excited,” people say about an event, a new food, a trip…I don’t suggest they are not “excited”, but like many other expressions, “ excited” has lost its meaning. When I taught English literature, I would tell my students to forego clichés and aim to express themselves in new ways, not something hackneyed because the reader just turns off: s/he has heard it so many times: white as snow versus white as clotted cream; hard as nails, etc.

You cannot insult anyone any more.Using the f-word is meaningless along with the other body parts that used to connote abuse. Previously well used to get a rise out of someone, to demonstrate rage, or just respond to annoyance or communicate with colleagues in a familial way, the f-word was part of language that could convey a multitude of emotions. Now, it lays dormant , forgotten, besmirched by over use in the wrong contexts. It has lost its oomph.

I’ll never forget playing in the schoolyard in maybe Grade 3 and coming home with a new word to insult my sister. “You’re a prick”, I hurled at my kindergarten sister in our family livingroom in front of my parents!
My father stonily replied, “ DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS?

Not quite so brave now, I shrank closer to the ground and murmured, “No.”. When he retorted , “It means a man’s penis”, I shriveled up and slunk away. Not just the word, but hearing my father say the word embarrassed me beyond anything I had ever known before. And he expressed himself with suppressed anger. Needless to say, I never insulted her with that profanity again.

There is a link to how we dress and so-called abusive language. I used to read Italian with a friend because three languages were required in my Masters Program so instead of going to class, E. and I would translate books written in Italian over tea in her sunny living room. She once remarked that –and this was in the 80’s- it was a first for people to purchase and wear raggedly torn clothes, aspiring to dress as the poor, wanting to appear in discarded cast off garments. Previously people in society had wished to emulate the rich, the aristocracy, re- enacting their manners, pretending that a rich and cultured lifestyle replete with finely made and costly clothes reflected a desire to be upperly moble. But no longer.

In an ironic twist, people seemed to prefer jeans, the uniform of the working class, with holes and tears BUT emblazoned with designer labels as if to alert the rest of the world that yes, I dress down, but these duds are expensive ones style-fully corrupted by designers Armani and Ralph Lauren. Rather than demonstrating greater allegiance with the poor’s denim work duds, the middle and wealth upper classes paid empty lip service to the working class: as style- no true sentiment attached.

Similarly swearing really does not send a message that swearing used to. Much like the holes and ravaged missing knees on jeans, clothes that individuals choose to dress and language spoken conveys no message.

Maybe that’s a good thing. After all , not everything is meant to be a symbol and be interpreted ad nausem. Maybe a cigar is just a cigar and we are free to babble in whatever clothes we throw on or carefully compose an outfit for the aesthetics it dares impart. So be it.


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