So, Right?

Every now and again, but with some regularity, we adopt speech patterns that, at first blush, seem compelling, cool and suddenly are conventional. It’s as if simultaneously, we all drank from the same water cooler and, Presto!, the phrases tumble from our mouths nearly in unison.

A few years ago, “Cool!” became the expression du jour. Regardless of what the other person said, the expected response was: “Cool!” This, one supposes, was homage and nostalgic yearning for 50s beatnik years in the Village. There was, you know, a Cold War going on at that time. Which is why the Beats wore berets.

These are verbal tics. There’s nothing novel about them, they’ve been present since forever.

Today, especially among academics, for instance, it has become fashionable to utter every statement as though the statement is a question. Our voices go up at the end? As if we are asking something? When in fact, we’re not?

Maybe it’s insecurity that’s driving this. A quest for validation by listeners. They’re easy targets, << voice rising >> aren’t they? For a response to an assertion as though it had been an unasked question. Alternately, maybe this is the lecturer’s lame attempt to prompt interaction and active learning following the lecturer’s monotonous soliloquy. Or, maybe I’m just making up all of this psycho-babble.

Someone collects overused contemporary expressions and annually publishes a listing of the most overworked ones. You can look this up. We used to call such things a cliché. I’m pretty sure the word “plethora” made the list as, for a while, it peppered the prose of many. A plethora of plethoras, one might say. And try saying the word without sounding as though you’ve got a speech impediment.

You know the Henry Fonda line from On Golden Pond: “Ethel. Ethel Thayer. Sounds like I’m lisping.”

More broadly than the academy, one notices that many have adopted the word “so.” It gets placed before the beginning of each sentence. As in: “So, this morning, when I got up . . .” Or: “So, the purpose of today’s meeting . . . “

Curiously, “so” serves as both a transition device connecting the previous sentence, that also began with “so,” to the current sentence and a verbal signpost to indicate that some conclusion has been drawn. When, if fact, there is no such conclusion.

With equally broad application, many – perhaps those who envy the academics – now include the word “right,” which is used to signify a question, at the conclusion of their sentences. It’s a call for agreement and validation. One we’re apparently desperate for. And, again, a way to evoke response from an otherwise comatose listener. It is also a useful way to forestall an argument or any other kind of negative, disagreeable response.

So right? So, wrong.

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