"Words! words! words!" cries Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady," the wonderful Broadway musical and subsequent movie based on George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion." She's fed up with words without action from would-be lover Freddy as well as the repeated drilling of professor Henry Higgins, her tormenting teacher.
It's easy to identify with Eliza. I'm in one of those disturbing moods now. Certain galling words and phrases are getting to me. I'm feeling a tad crotchety. This admission won't surprise friends who believe that I have tendencies toward being a curmudgeon. What follows should remove any doubts. As for the rest of you, surely you will cut me some slack. I can't be the only one annoyed by careless use of the English language or by a cavalier approach to certain overused, vexing expressions.
For instance, here's one that is driving me nuts, and at my age the trip is getting shorter. I sit in a booth at one of my favorite restaurants and order a lemonade. When the waiter delivers it, I say, "Thank you." He replies, "No problem." I order a refill, thank him and receive the same, "No problem." Where in the world did the old standard reply "You're welcome" go? There is clearly no problem involved in getting and delivering my lemonade. None!
Then there's this related interchange: "Thank you." "Of course." Say what?
Right up there in the running for the most irritating words hooked together in the English vocabulary are these two: "you know." Some people are seemingly incapable of constructing one or two sentences without inserting a series of "you knows." "I was telling Frank, you know, about the sale, you know, over at Best Buy and he said to me, you know, that . . . . . " Ye gods! At first I thought this particular unnecessary irritating insertion was limited to those under 20, but now I hear it from folks of all ages. It's contagious.
And there's this gem: "That's what it's all about." Ah, if only things were that simple. I can't think of anything that can be explained so clearly or easily that no further questions need to be asked. That's a real conversation stopper.
Then there's this admittedly personal one. It's the statement made by well-intentioned individuals that sends a shockwave through my heart and every other individual who is severely inept and clumsy making household repairs or become certifiably muddleheaded reading instruction sheets or manuals. "Oh, it's easy. Anyone can do it." My Beloved knows better. Within one year of our betrothal she realized that it would cost us twice as much to hire someone to fix what I tried to fix.
And now we come to a biggie. It seems to me that a particularly irksome word comes along about every 15 to 20 years. In the '80s and '90s and even into the new century the word was "awesome." Remember that one? It's still around, sad to say. But it's been replaced with another word that has become currently the most annoying word in the English language: AMAZING.
Everything is amazing these days. "John is amazing." "Her hair is just amazing." "I can't believe how amazing that book is." This word is so overused that it no longer has currency; it has become meaningless and nonsensical. Let's bury it until something really amazing comes along.
Like this example: A spaceship lands on our fairgrounds. As a curious crowd congregates at least 40 men and women along with several dozen children walk out of the huge oval spaceship. The men look exactly like a young Harry Belafonte, the women are the spitting image of a youthful Lena Horne. The children are drop-dead beautiful. One of the men, apparently the leader, says "Howdy. We've been watching your planet for the past 10,000 years or so and feel like it's time to get acquainted." The children then pull out a huge grill, others carry boxes of hamburgers, wieners and condiments. Their leader - I call him Harry - suggests we round up our neighbors and we'll all have a great barbecue.
Later that day "Harry" casually mentions that he's glad to see we have an annual rodeo. "We had our first one about 4,000 years ago."
"Harry," I reply, looking around furtively, hoping no one overheard him. "I'd keep that quiet if I were you. No one in Prescott wants to hear that you had the world's first rodeo."
"Oh, we weren't the first."
Dr. Ron Barnes is a retired educator and businessman.