Cheryl Pappas


Archive for March, 2013

The New American English Language (A Conversation About Words)

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

I had an altercation on the phone last night with a guy who works for a residential rental company.

Calling about a specific house, what I assumed would be a straight forward communication instantly devolved.

“That’s actually an amazing place”, the guy announced, although he hadn’t seen it.

When I asked for details, he read, “It has a kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, 2 parking spaces, and it’s somewhere in Santa Monica”.

I wondered aloud what exactly was “amazing”, assuming that he hadn’t arrived at that part of his shpiel.

He repeated, “It has a kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, and 2 parking spaces”.

I was listening for what was “amazing”, yet his recitation of house features continued to not amaze.

That’s where the needle jammed on the record.

He insisted he couldn’t tell me anything else that was amazing because he didn’t have any other information, and I repeated that I haven’t heard anything amazing yet!

Growing more irritated, baffled, and bewildered was I.

Obviously, he thought he had described “amazing” in his pedestrian list of house features, and I didn’t get it.

What was I missing?

We did at least 6 rounds of this, increasingly repeating our lines louder and over each other until mercifully, I hung up.

I was stunned over my sudden mood broil and clueless about what had just happened.

I went over each beat of the “conversation” out loud with those friends who were with me who had overheard it.

Lucky them.

Thirty minutes later, I got it.

“Amazing” has become an empty word, a generalized exclamation that stands in for any experience, whether exciting or not.

It, along with a dictionary of other words, is a ghost town sound that used to mean something.

I was “amazed”.

I mean in the antique way.

Aha! I thought. He wasn’t using the word “amazing”, he was using the deleted word, not the word at all but the word as sound “amazing”, the “amazing” that didn’t mean anything but was plumping up an empty string of what used to be words that are now just sounds retaining no meaning or definition!

I had to keep working this out in my head.

The sounds themselves used, yet replacing the words; sounds indicating generic tone, promoting unity with other people who repeat these sounds and use these sounds to set the mood and tone for their lives.

The sounds which once were words communicate tonality solely as reflection of their once-inhabited relevance; i.e. “awesome” becomes an utterance of “okay”.

Words are stripped of specific meaning, now used as quick punctuation setting generic mood and tone.

I’m almost there.

He was using “amazing” as an empty monotone exclamation for its tone indication, not having anything to do with the meaning and definition of the old word, “amazing”.


He wasn’t using “amazing” as a word.

Ergo, his blank, insistent repetition of the word “amazing”, as if the word meant nothing at all, because for him, it did not!

We were speaking two different languages.

Okay. I was onto something big.

There are two distinct languages spoken in American English today.

I glanced in my mind over the idea of Olde English, Hebrew, Arabic, Roman, Greek, the former languages of ancient times when those languages were spoken by entire societies, now long gone.

So I am speaking an old language!

The new language where words exist as sounds, has replaced the old, definition-based language.

Now I understand.

This is why it is so maddening for me to be in the generic hood, interacting superficially with people I don’t know.

The waiter who says “no problem” when I thank him.

(Why should it be a problem to begin with?)

The waitress who says “awesome choice” when jotting down my order.

(Wasn’t the universe at one point considered awesome? Is it really the same as a chopped roasted vegetable salad with goat cheese?)

This new language, which I call sleep talk, is the sleepy contagion of non-deliberate sounds; bubbles of syllables where meaning once lived.

Yet there is much to be understood about this language.

Listening is my métier, my quirk, and my career.

Since my response to what I hear spoken everywhere becomes the darkening of many a good mood and a cloud cover over otherwise delightful days and nights, it is my job to figure out what this new language means.

To begin with, words losing meaning and substance deleted from language.

Let’s just say I consider it more than a drag.

I always want to know what people mean when they say something, and I want specifics.

In other new words, LOL.

This new language that has supplanted the old language (where the meaning of words was the language) is a language using words exclusively for tonality; i.e. using former adjectives such as “awesome” and “amazing” as tonal communion builders.

It is a language, not of word substance, but of indication and tone.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the word, “like,” is fundamental to this language.

“Like” is the ultimate utterance of indication; softening, even erasing, the tone and significance of what is said before or after.

If something is “like” something, it is not the thing itself.

Has it become fraught and frightening to commit to a thought, feeling, or opinion?

If meaning and definition are eroded in language, what happens to meaning and definition in life?

We live in a new world of communication where words are not at all about meaning, but are used to communicate sounds and tones which are phonetically repeated in a robotic way to promote the aroma and fiction of belonging and being okay.

Perhaps there should be “no problem” with this.

Language has always been manipulated by its users for personal and political promotion.

Rather than judging the new language that has replaced the old, last night’s incident with “amazing” is my first light bulb moment.

I finally understand that I am speaking a different language.

Mine is the old language, the art and love of words deliberately sought and chosen in the quest for deeper connection and sharper communication.

I am calling the new, more popular language “sleep talking” because the speakers are asleep to the original meaning of the words, and the words are therefore put to sleep.

Sleep talking is a faster, different language; geared for an understanding among speakers, as is all language.

Perhaps the conversational points they are indicating are equally important to these speakers, even as they mimic sounds, (like “like”), that obscure the points they may be making.

Or maybe this muted delivery style reveals how people are protective and adapting themselves to a scarier world.

Whether it is denial or the softening of reality, the communication of this new language seems to be that the speakers are “all good” and bound together in the dream that the sounds create: amazing, awesome, sweet.

Since nowhere has it been announced that this sleep talk is a new and important language to analyze and understand, let me be the one.

Maybe now that I know there are two separate languages, I can get some sleep.

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