A Henry Higgins Moment
September 1, 2009
It's funny, and -- frankly -- depressing, how nothingy little words or expressions creep into everyday speech until they become as rampant as swine flu. We often don't realize when we use the words "like" or "you know" 15 times in a sentence. We get lazy with the way we talk. Is this a relatively recent by-product of our lackadaisical culture or something that's been going on for centuries? And if the latter, I wonder what the Renaissance equivalent for "you know" was? "prithee" perhaps? Or maybe "forsooth"??
A new word has been appearing in the everyday lexicon of quite a few people I know in the Bay Area. It's becoming so prevalent in the culture out here that I thought I should take a moment to point it out. The word in question is: "Really?" It sounds innocuous enough but it's got a boa constrictor hold on the way Californians speak these days.
In the usage of "really" that I'm referring to, the word is always accompanied by a question mark. It's used when people find someone's behavior strange, can't believe something happening or otherwise feel like questioning the world around them. Instead of articulating how strange / incredible something is by describing that something in more detail or their feelings about it, they use "Really?" as a sort of shorthand for incredulity. The word is usually accompanied by a look of perplexity such as a furrowed brow. The second syllable is usually intoned higher than the first.
Although used in more specific circumstances than such common speech ticks as "like" and "you know", "Really?" is, at least to my ear, really, really, lazy. And it's driving me bonkers.