Modern Speech


A couple weeks ago we discussed local flavor in expressions. It got me to thinking that I grew up in an era where no one thought anything of saying, “He should be shot,” or “My father is going to kill me,” for minor infractions. One of my friends noted that if a teenager said that today about her father, someone would call Social Services. After the Columbine tragedy that left so many dead or maimed at the hands of gunmen, I decided not to use any reference to shooting or killing in a cavalier manner. I believe my speech is gentler for the change.

I’m not sure every alteration has been for the better, though. The term “waitstaff” throws me. I can’t help but visualize a shepherd’s crook leaning against a corner wall, waiting for its owner to retrieve it. On the other hand, I don’t mind “flight attendant” as a substitute for “stewardess.” Have you noticed that media calls both male and female stars “actors” rather than “actresses” and “actors.” This change seems unnecessary to me.

We have moved from “men” meaning “mankind.” In a reference to mankind, I never minded being lumped in with the men. I like men. And much of the bliss of singing “Joy to the World” feels stolen when I must sing, “Let all their songs employ,” rather than “Let men their songs employ.” That one syllable changes the meaning of the line from let “everyone” sing to let everyone sing an “infinite body” of songs.

For the most part, I choose my battles wisely. I don’t like being called “you guys” along with the rest of a group of women, (although no one has ever accused me of being a guy when I’m by myself), but I won’t take issue with it. And when someone slips and runs the old version of “Joy to the World,” I might sing that line with a little more vigor. English is a living language. If not, we wouldn’t have, for instance, The Message Bible, or its precursor, The Living Bible. When thinking of language and its meaning, I believe we must keep our dictionaries — and our hearts — open and updated.

 Your turn:

Do you have any pet peeves with newer developments in speech?

Has your speech changed recently?

Do you like the use of inclusive language?

What is your favorite Bible version? Was it controversial when it was first released?

42 Responses to Modern Speech

  1. Avatar
    Pete Missing February 9, 2012 at 4:57 am #

    I have numerous peeves, but they rarely get to me – I am more inclined to just correct myself. If I catch myself starting a sentence with “you know”, I just start again by saying, “if you know, why would I tell you again – please forgive me”.

    English people have an awkward tendency to be oblique and that frustrates me. So if an Englishman should ask me, “You wouldn’t like to help me”, I will gladly reply, “Yup, you are so right, I wouldn’t”. Another peeve is when people, for fear of being too direct, say, “I am not sure”, to which I normally retort, “what you mean is, you don’t have a clue”.

    As for ensuring that my language is genderised, nah, that’s not for me. I have always felt that deference is displayed through actions not symbolically. Can you imagine the queen saying, “My partner and I ….”, before listening to “God save our gracious royal person” and then closing her eyes to share the culmination of a prayer, with the ancient Hebrew word for so be it, namely “aah-people”.

    • Avatar
      Timothy Fish February 9, 2012 at 5:38 am #

      A teenager was once asked what the meaning of amen is. She very correctly pointed out that it means the same as “Whatever.”

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        Pete Missing February 10, 2012 at 3:52 am #

        Lol. I must use that, thanks Tim. Reminds me of how a teacher was telling her class, “in some languages a double negative has a negative value (as in no, no), a negative and a positive can have either a positive or negative value depending on context, whilst a double positive always has a positive value”, to which a bored student remarked, “yeah, right”.

      • Avatar
        Peter DeHaan February 10, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

        The Amplified Bible parenthetically defines “amen” as “so be it” or “so let it be.”

        Try using one of those phrases at the end of a prayer instead of “amen” and people get really confused.

  2. Avatar
    Debby Mayne February 9, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    I don’t really have any pet peeves with the newer ways of speaking, except when they change the meaning as you mentioned in your “Joy to the World” example. In everyday conversation, I enjoy hearing new expressions, learning where they came from, and what they mean. I also think accents and regional phrases are interesting and add flavor, so hearing “you guys” doesn’t bother me, even though I’d probably say “y’all.”

    My main pet peeve in speech is when people can’t say a sentence without using curse words.

  3. Avatar
    Debbie Lynne Costello February 9, 2012 at 6:03 am #

    I do remember using those phrases as a teenager when I thought I might be in trouble. One has to wonder how they ever got started. I think the word that drives me the craziest is Meh. Not even sure I spelled that correctly. I mean is it really a word? I haven’t looked it up in the dictionary but if it isn’t in there,I’m sure it will be just like ain’t. If we said “ain’t” as a child we were quickly and correctly told it wasn’t a word and we wouldn’t find it in the dictionary. I couldn’t believe the first time one of my children informed me that “yes it was in the dictionary.”

    • Avatar
      Timothy Fish February 9, 2012 at 6:35 am #

      Can you use “Meh” in context for us? I’ve either never heard someone use it, or I don’t recognize it.

      • Avatar
        Tamela Hancock Murray February 9, 2012 at 8:10 am #

        “Meh” is a form of indifference.

        Zoe studied the menu. “Wanna split a pizza?”

        Sebastian shrugged. “Meh. Doesn’t matter to me.”

      • Avatar
        Steve Laube February 9, 2012 at 9:12 am #

        Also see this online definition. Apparently started to become popular after its use on “The Simpsons.”

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        Pete Missing February 10, 2012 at 3:55 am #

        I don’t know about meh but teh seems to be an important, far from indifferent word to microsoft as it keeps appearing in all my word documents – it should be an accepted alternative spelling for the – and then teh world will be at peace.

  4. Avatar
    Timothy Fish February 9, 2012 at 6:32 am #

    When I moved to Texas, I decided I would not let the word y’all slip into my speech.

    I’m beginning to like the idea of returning to the use of them and their rather than him and his when gender is uncertain.

    I don’t like it that secretaries are now call administrative assistants. I never have understood the point of that change.

    I like using the 21st Century King James Version because it updates the King James Version were the meanings of words have changed, but still uses ye when the plural form of you is intended.

    In some ways, I like the use of “man” to refer to all mankind because that’s what the Bible does. But there is always that question of whether it is being used to mean men and women or just men. Knowing the difference often requires looking at it in the context of the Greek or Hebrew, two languages I have a very limited knowledge or. But I prefer the translators leave it to me to look up, rather than making an assumption that is incorrect.

    • Avatar
      Janet Ann Collins February 10, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      I’ve heard that thee, thou, and thine were familiar forms of the second person pronoun, used for friends and family. Ye, you and your were used in formal relationships, perhaps with the implication that a superior person was worth more than an individual.

    • Avatar
      Deb Kinnard February 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

      Tim, you don’t work a day job in health care. If you did, you’d be used to it by now. Our secretaries are now Unit Assistants. Our housekeepers are now Environmental Services. Our purchasing department is Materials Management, personnel is Human Resources. Medical Records is Health Information Management. Even our switchboard personnel are Telecommunications.

      Ask then — do we do the same jobs we used to? You betcha.

      I do have an issue with people changing the lyrics of songs we all know. It seems high-handed to me. Count me as one of those who’ll sing “Joy to the World” the old way.

  5. Avatar
    Laura Kirk February 9, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    This is going out on a slightly different limb, but I truly miss “you’re welcome” now replaced by “no problem”. I almost feel as if I am slimly sliding below the line that marks me as a problem. Especially when I am told this by a server in a restaurant.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray February 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

      I have had that same feeling, although I confess, I use “no problem” just about every day.

  6. Avatar
    Lindsay Harrel February 9, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    I guess I don’t like when something changes purely for reasons of “political correctness,” but that’s mostly because I’m an editor and have to keep up with the latest in PC. I don’t take offense to “mankind” or any of those things. But I agree, I think I prefer “you ladies” or just “ladies” when a group of women is being addressed, instead of “you guys.” But it is not enough to upset me either way.

    Interesting discussion!

  7. Avatar
    Liz Tolsma February 9, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    I don’t like when I ask someone a question and they reply, “Whatever.” Tell me one way or the other. I asked you because I wanted to know your opinion 😉

    I hate when someone says, “That’s retarded.” Or “What a retard.” I have a retarded daughter. That is the correct way of saying it. She is retarded in the fact that she is intellectually where her peers are. So, I will refer to my daughter as retarded. It’s O.K. in the word of special needs but not in the world at large. And they’d better not call her a retard!

    I use the NIV Bible & I know our denomination is heading toward using the ESV. I don’t like the use of inclusive language. I’m a lady and I’d like to be referred to as such. (Though, if you visit our house, my retarded daughter is likely to call you “the guys” LOL!)

  8. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins February 9, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    It bugs me when people say “God” zillions of times in a sentence to avoid using “Him” or “He” to refer to the deity. Yes, I know God doesn’t have gender, but that really gets irritating. The problem is, English has a perfectly gender-free term to refer to people, but “it” is considered derogatory, only fit to refer to something sub-human. I like using “they,” and that would be theologically correct as a way to refer to the Trinity. English is certainly a living language.

  9. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins February 9, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    Timothy, I disagree that “Whatever” and “Amen” mean the same thing. We end prayers with the word meaning, “May it be so” but teens use their jargon word to mean, “Who cares?”

    Liz, I get frustrated with the constant changing politically correct words referring to people with special needs (like that phrase) as if a disability were something to be ashamed of. Retarded simply means slow. And in sports a handicap is given to the best players.

    • Avatar
      Timothy Fish February 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm #


      Please don’t take me more seriously than I take myself. I find that very disturbing.

      I blogged about it several years ago in the post Whatever. I think you will find that I mostly agree with you. But I must give full credit to Maggie Chandler for writing about it originally in her column, “I Wish I’d Said That.” I would like to provide a link to it, but it isn’t available online.

      • Avatar
        Janet Ann Collins February 9, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

        Great pos on your blogt. And, don’t worry, I won’t take you too seriously.

      • Avatar
        Janet Ann Collins February 9, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

        Great post on your blog. And, don’t worry, I won’t take you too seriously.

      • Avatar
        Pete Missing February 10, 2012 at 3:59 am #

        oh, whatever

  10. Avatar
    Donna Pyle February 9, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    I’m dating myself, but companies used to have “Personnel Offices” and now it’s “Human Resources.” I remember thinking when they changed it how very 21st century and impersonal it sounded. Almost like a pool of faceless robots they could pull at random for tasks. Human Resources… Still kinda creepy. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray February 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

      I hadn’t thought of that, and I can’t see what was accomplished by changing it.

      • Avatar
        Pete Missing February 10, 2012 at 4:15 am #

        Yeah, I have always hated it … like we are just widgets in the washing maching of corporate existence, a thing to be used until useful no more. Maybe that is why many “euphemise it” to HR, because that is less obvious.

  11. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins February 9, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Steve, the link about the Simpsons also referred to D’oh. That’s not a new word. When I was a kid people used “Duh” to mean, “That’s obvious.” But the word derived from daw, which was used in the middle ages to mean a stupid person, like “Marjorie Daw” in the nursery rhyme.

    • Avatar
      Pete Missing February 10, 2012 at 4:20 am #

      I still use “duh” at times – so evocative, but now I am glad to know where it came from in this see-saw world of English.

  12. Avatar
    Jane Myers Perrine February 9, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    I’ve given up. I hate the use of HOPEFULLY–which will hopefully die out but it won’t. As for using objective pronouns after preopositions, well, between you and I, this is a lost cause. IMO, in the future we will no differentiate between adjectives and adverbs and the difference between LESS and FEW is gone. But, language changes. I can’t stop it so I’ve learned to accept.

    • Avatar
      Pete Missing February 10, 2012 at 4:18 am #

      So much for adverbs and adjectives, but with Google (a noun), morphing into “to Google” (a verb), maybe the parts of speech that help keep english teachers paid, will eventually be more caught than taught.

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    Robin Patterson February 9, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    When I was in high school, I had a friend who used the expression “in under.” If I asked her where her math book was, it was “in under” her desk. If it might be cold at the football game, she’d wear a t-shirt “in under” her sweater. She was usually “fixing” to do something. I found it amazingly charming…but I’m not and editor and trust me, she was no writer!

  14. Avatar
    Robin Caroll February 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    I have a LOT of speech pet peeves (hush, Steve) but the biggest one I work constantly with my children on is substituting the word GOES for SAID. I interrupt and ask them “where did she go?” Annoys them, but gets the point across. Along that line, the kids substituting the word STAYS for LIVES. I’ve explained that I STAY at my computer too many hours a day, but I LIVE at my house.

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    Timothy Fish February 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    The things that bother me the most are not in spoken English but in the written form. I hate when people don’t bother to say what they mean but instead type the first character of every word. It is usually of a phrase that they wouldn’t use if they were speaking. And I like emoticons even less. If I can’t tell that you think something is funny without seeing a smiley face, maybe it isn’t all that funny.

  16. Avatar
    JoAnne Potter February 9, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    My pet peeve is the humble preposition ‘on’. It is currently used in too many places where it does not mean its intended ‘on top of’ and used in places where ‘about’ or ‘concerning’ or ‘regarding’ belong. Argh!

  17. Avatar
    Wade Webster February 9, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    I’ve noticed that the word ‘of’ is falling out of most vocabularies. The very first line of this post is a prime example. To me it still should say ‘A couple of weeks ago…’
    Maybe that’s just me, but I seem to see a lot of it.

    • Avatar
      Janet Ann Collins February 10, 2012 at 9:44 am #

      I tolerate most of the new things mentioned here even if I don’t use most of them. English is a living language and will always keep changing unless it dies. But, for some reason, it really bugs me when I hear or read ‘a couple’ without the of. Nobody says ‘a pair shoes’ or ‘a group people’ but even in published books the ‘of’ is often left out with the word, couple.

  18. Avatar
    Laurie Alice Eakes February 10, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    This current trend toward unisexing everything drives me insane. I never went back to a church of a certain denomination when they had gender neutralized all the hymns. Excuse me–those hymns weren’t written that way. As an author, I’d be offended if someone went through my manuscript and changed everything to gender neutral. I don’t feel I have a right to do it to a songright even hundreds of years after his death.

    And don’t get me started on politically correct. As a victim of this sometimes, I just want to tel people not to sprain a synaps trying to avoid raw truth about life.

    That’s not to say don’t be insensitive. Many changes in language are a good thing. But in trying to be PC, people tend to lump people into boxes into which they do not belong and/or do not wish to be lumped. More often than not, people’s PCness offends more than it defends. Believe me, the people where I live down here on the border are quite, quite vocal about this, I’ve learned and I’m am now a bit on a mission against lumping groups of people under one umbrella.

  19. Avatar
    Pete Missing February 10, 2012 at 4:10 am #

    One peeve that I suppose will draw a reaction, possibly because it so universally used in American society, yet technically neither correct nor widely applied in English, is to say something is “different than …”, rather that “different to …”. Difference implies an absolute not a relative distinction. As such, a degree of difference, as in different than, implies that something is more or less different than something else, which is suitably vague. In its use, “difference” is used to convey an absolute distinction, as in this is not like that.

  20. Avatar
    Pegg Thomas February 10, 2012 at 5:16 am #

    Pet peeve? Oh, yes. Like you know I do, like it’s just a serious irritant to like have people, you know, like use the word LIKE fifteen times like in every sentence! ARGH!

  21. Avatar
    Hilarey February 10, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    My biggest pet peeve is the catch phrases teens use mindlessly. Example: “I know, right?” It is said an infinite number of times during a conversation so that their mouths can move on autopilot.

  22. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan February 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    As my bride will attest, I am particularly irked by the increasing misuse of “literally” and “unique.”

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    Deb Kinnard February 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    @Peter, the one that irks me more is “very unique.” Come on. It’s either unique or it isn’t.

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