The late great George Carlin had a way with words. He knew which words were important and which were fluff — and which could quite possible change the cosmos.
It has been often quoted that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” (Coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1839 play “Richelieu: The Conspiracy.”)
I ‘wanna’ add something to that. The spoken word is a medium like no other: the right words can heal, wound, resurrect, reject or bring life to just about anything. Humans have always judged each other by the words they use (and the accent used to speak them).
All my life I’ve been listening to the words and phrases people use and lately I’ve been paying extra close attention to dialogue on television. It makes my eyes water and I’ve found I cannot watch anything except “Masterpiece Theater” or “Nova.”
The art of speaking and using interesting vocabulary is dead in this country. Today’s youth are grammatically impaired and if you speak to anyone (on any subject) between the ages of 12 and 20, you’ll probably find they speak in incomplete sentences, cannot thread chronological thoughts or events together in a cohesive way, cannot express what they are feeling except to say things like, “nothing’s good today, I wanna go back to bed. Work stinks, wish they would give up on that stuff.” And so on.
Not only are telephone conversations a thing of the past (because of email, texting and online personal publicity), when they do occur I’m finding that conversations with sales people, reservationists and service providers can make any wordsmith nauseous. (This is especially true if the speaker is under the age of 25.)
There is a stomach-turning phase that has been resurrected in the past decade: “That will not be a problem.”
Instead of saying, “I can take care of that,” or, “It will be my pleasure to assist you,” all I keep hearing is, "That will not be a problem."
I actually told one pleasant-sounding salesperson why that phrase is a bummer.
I explained patiently: “Never introduce a negative word or the concept of a problem when you want to assure someone that there will not be a problem,” I suggested.
"What do you mean?" she said, unable to grasp what I was saying.
I explained further, and then she finally said, “OK, I get it, that will not be a problem.”
I hung up.
Here is one of my favorites from George Carlin; it used to hang on my office wall when I was living and working in New York City and 32. Back then I didn’t truly understand what he was saying. Now that I’m past 32, I can honestly say that appreciating his words is no longer a problem.
“When you’re young, you don’t know,
But you don’t know that you don’t know,
So you take some chances.
In your twenties and thirties you don’t know,
And you know that you don’t know,
And that tends to freeze you;
Less risk taking.
In your forties
you know, but you don’t know you know,
so you may be a little tentative.
But then, as you pass fifty,
If you’ve been paying attention,
You know, and you know you know.
Time for some fun.”