I wrote a provocative headline on this post. In fact, I am developing a tolerant attitude toward my fellow English speakers' verbal habits. But a couple of e-mail messages this week remind me that some of us are irritated by others' use of certain words and phrases.
Here is the first one:
Subject line: please discuss this in your column
I am ABSOLUTELY sick of hearing the overuse and misuse (given the contexts) of the word "absolutely"
people use it for everything, from a simple 'yes' to a "you're welcome", etc. ad naseum
I feel your pain, dear reader. My husband once went on a rant about the phrase "no problem," which has apparently become the new "you're welcome." You (baby boomer) say "thank you" to the waiter (Gen Y) and he says, "No problem." Yes, I know it's no problem; it's your job, kid!
I confess, though, that I picked up the habit of saying "You bet" or "You betcha" when someone thanks me. I trace it to my three years in west-central Nebraska, where the Scandinavian settlers' influence is strong.
Back to "absolutely." It has become a way of responding positively, but it has a bit of bite in it, doesn't it? You say, "I think we should all eat more healthful foods," and the person you are addressing says, "absolutely," as in "No kidding, genius. Heathful food is a dang good idea." Sometimes, though, the "absolutely" is just another way of saying, "You betcha" or "And how!" or "Word!" As long as the speaker isn't engaging in a Ned Flanders elocution ("Abso-diddly-lutely"), we should probably just let it slide.
That habit of inserting another word or syllables into a word is called infixation, and sometimes it can lead to interesting and vulgar formations. My father had an acquaintance many years ago who habitually said, "I guaran-damn-tee it." My mother did not approve.
Here is an amusing message from an annoyed reader:
Subject line: Why I Don't Love Myself
Dear Gramma Queen,
Since moving to the Pacific Northwest several years ago, I have noticed that many local speakers consistently use "myself" instead of "me." "Send an email to John and myself." "When the proposal is finished, please send a copy to Jane, Mark and myself."
Strictly speaking, these people cannot thank myself, ride the train with myself, share a coffee with myself or apparently speak English correctly to myself, but this speech pattern is nonetheless quite common here.
Is this common everywhere or is it just here in Seattle?
I told the reader that -self abuse was common throughout the United States. I have written about it, so I won't go into the matter again. Except to say, "Please stop it!" Especially you people up there in the Northwest!
What can we do about other people's annoying speech habits? Unless those people are our children or our students, we can't do much to change their speech. It's rude to correct another adult who isn't your spouse (and your spouse should be corrected only in private and with affection, not irritation). So here is another way to look at these odd or overused words you hear every day: Embrace the differences among English speakers. Let your fellow speakers have their idiosyncrasies. Focus instead on the written language and find those clear, concise and correct sentences to enjoy, share and imitate.