I realize how old I’ve become when I hear younger people talking. Not that I have all that much of an opportunity to hear them, I should add. The majority of our friends are people who are probably within a decade or so of our respective ages. And most of them speak more or less the way we do.
Still, when I overhear the conversations of the young at my gym, or when we go to a restaurant, for example, I’m often amazed, perplexed, nonplussed, or just bemused at what I hear. The other day, for example, we were having dinner at a local diner. We were served by a very nice, very polite young waiter. I am guessing he couldn’t have been more than 20 years old, or so. His speed and efficiency in attending to us were exemplary, and we were very pleased, as we were both hungry. However, pretty much without exception, every time he brought something to the table, and we would say “thank you,” his reply invariably was, “No worries!”
Really, no worries? I do not think he ever used the expression “you’re welcome,” or “certainly,” or “my pleasure,” or even the more off-handed “sure!” No, instead each time we were counseled not to worry. I found this both amusing and, frankly, somewhat disconcerting. I mean, where could such an expression have come from? Why would it ever even occur to me to worry under such circumstances? And why did our thanking him, perhaps an unnecessary politeness on our part, some may even argue, since he was merely doing his job, ever make him suppose that all this might possibly engender worry on our part?
I practically expected him to address us as “dudes,” another expression of the young, which applies a new meaning to an older term. This is a word, as is well known, that has its own history. A dude, once upon a time in the 19th century, referred to an individual who dressed in inappropriately fancy clothing, especially one from the East who found himself in the Western part of the country. It was more or less synonymous with dandy, and was never used as a compliment. Nowadays, among other uses, it appears to signify a kind of bonding notion between young men, in particular young straight men, who – from what I can tell – use it to signify a type of closeness or camaraderie, but with just enough distance built in so as not to imply too much intimacy. This way, sufficient heterosexuality can be assured, no one feels too uncomfortable, and an intimation of completely nonsexual friendship is always implied and maintained. I am not an expert on this, but the word does seem to vary in its connotations, depending on the intonation used. Drawn out and pronounced with a higher pitched tone on the first syllable and a lower tone on the second, as in “DO-ood,”it can imply a kind of dubiousness, or even a questioning of motives or veracity, as in “DO-ood, come on!” By contrast, spoken with a sharp, snappy intonation, as in “Aw, dude, that’s awesome!” it can connote congratulatory praise. The term “bro,” too, might in some contexts be thought of as a reasonable synonym (see also the November, 2013 issue of “The Atlantic Magazine” for J. J. Gould’s entertaining piece on this topic, entitled “Dude Transcends).
Which brings me to another least favorite word of mine, namely, “awesome!” It seems to me that there are, in fact, very few things in life that actually deserve this appellation. Although I do not come from a Protestant background, I have heard that there is a hymn sung commonly within such religious traditions that speaks of the “awesome wonder” of the shining stars and the rolling thunder. And yes, I agree that these are indeed awesome, but probably not the touchdown on the part of your favorite team, or the steak you have just consumed, or even that girl in the red dress on the other side of the bar.
“To die for” is yet another expression in regard to which I may well expire in anguished exasperation, myself, if I hear it too many more times. It is my understanding that this overblown, overused, and overbearing term began originally among gay men, but has now migrated willy-nilly to, and has regrettably ensconced itself among, the population at large. For very few things ought one to be willing to die before one’s time, it seems to me, and most of these have to do solely with what would, let us hope, be only of the greatest benefit to humankind, or to the poor, suffering planet on which we live.
As implied perhaps above, I do not mean to pick on young, straight men exclusively either. Surely, gay men, too, have their deplorable darlings, some of which, in my view at least, are as inane, insidious, and annoying as anything a straight “awesome dude” might ever come up with. If, for example, I never hear the word “fabulous” again for the rest of my life, I will count myself among the blessed. Especially, when pronounced “FAB-ulous!” Again, very few things in this world are worthy of being so described, and certainly not a shirt, a TV show, or the latest designer drug. I could possibly tolerate a sunset being labeled fabulous, but would, I think, always prefer any one of the following in its place: stunning, spectacular, glorious, or even, yes, awesome!
There are other words and expressions, as well, that could be listed. Probably more than are worth noting. But among those I personally find anywhere from mildly annoying to downright offensive, I include “girl friend” (used by one gay man to refer to another), “zhoozhed” — a truly regrettable neologism, in my view — and “bling” (the latter, again, seems to have also migrated to a wider usage) referring, I suppose, to stylish clothing and jewelry respectively, and the ubiquitous but nonetheless offensive “fag hag” (a straight women, who hangs around rather too frequently and exclusively with gay men).
It’s not that I have anything against slang. Slang is, after all, one of the ways in which we can tell that a language is still vibrant and whole, that it continues to serve the needs of its users in their everyday lives and experiences. There is, for example, no current slang usage in Latin, nor – sadly – probably in many of the languages of indigenous peoples the world over, which are slowly dying out.
As with most things in the world, such change is a not just indicative of, but it is the very prerequisite and essential precondition of a living entity. In this sense, my railing against the apparent gradual loss of the objective case, when it comes to the use of personal pronouns after a preposition, is probably as quixotic as it is futile. What I’m referring to is how common it now is to say, as an example, “that was the case for Susan and I,” which still rankles, I have to admit (I even have trouble writing it as an example!), instead of the apparently older fashioned and more correct, or completely correct, “for Susan and me.” And I cringe whenever I hear anyone say, “well, that’s just between you and he,” although for the most part, I have given up on correcting anyone.
Who knows? Maybe fifty years from now, “no worries” will be considered as appropriate a reply to “thank you” as “you’re welcome” is now thought to be. From my point of view, I have to admit that I hope not. But more than one person in my life has accused me of “not being with it” in my grumpy and antiquated manner of both writing and speaking.
So be it, then, and let the dudes of the world reign! Or at least the younger speakers, who are undoubtedly fabulous in their own right, and whose language is perfectly awesome and to die for. Thanks for listening to the complaints of a stodgy, bemused, outdated, and obsolete stickler for grammar and appropriate usage. No need to say “you’re welcome,” by the way. I will do my best, in fact, to adjust, and to content and accustom myself to the kind and courteous, and oh-so-modern, “No worries!”
OK, I still can’t stop myself. I’m NOT worried, I want to say. All I’m trying to figure out – and can anyone enlighten me, please? – is why a simple “thank you” ought ever to result in any amount of perturbation, distress, or concern (i.e. worry) on the part of one so thanked. But now I really will stop, go get all zhoozhed up, and put on my bling too – that is, I mean, if I had any.