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The word recycler

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“Sweeeeet!” I said, and before I’d struck the final syllable I thought, Dear Lord, when did the word “sweet” enter my vocabulary? Then I remembered how fat I’ve been for most of my life and realized the word “sweet” probably entered my vocabulary before I was tall enough to grab ice cream out of the freezer. But I was not using the word to describe the taste of cupcakes or the unexpected kindness of a friend. No, I was stretching out the “ee” in the middle as if my lower jaw were arthritic and needed extra time to swoop in to make the sound. I was using the word as if it were substitution for “Narly!” or “Rad!” or some other slang from a subculture I do not belong to. I began using it sometime in the past few months, and every time I do I feel as though my mouth as been possessed by a ventriloquist.

I know many books and doctoral dissertations have been written about the acquisition of language. I hope the writers of one of those works can explain to me why I suddenly find myself using a phrase I don’t consciously seem to be choosing. I’m not sure if I have a prejudice against the word “sweet” or if I’m just annoyed whenever I notice a verbal tick of mine. A few years ago I noticed that I say, “Oh, okay,” a lot when someone else is telling a story. I suppose I do it to acknowledge that I am engaged and listening and have understood what they’ve said and am proving these feats of mental focus with three simple syllables, typically accompanied by a double head nod. But now that I’ve noticed that I do it, I’ve noticed that I do it all the time. I suppose I should search for a replacement phrase, or rather an artillery of replacement phrases, so I’m not just subbing one tic for another. I need an instant thesaurus for my mouth.

Not all of my vocabulary expansions are mysteries. A girl in my junior high school English class used “Dude” to start half her sentences, which I initially thought was really weird. Now I throw out several dudes a day—uh, the word, not actual dudes. A guy in my senior high school English class used the word “random” a lot, which I eventually adopted, too. When Battlestar Galactica was on the air I’d occasionally ask “What the frak?” which was the clever way the sci-fi show found to curse on basic cable—by making up their own curse words. When I watched Farscape it was “What the frell?” I guess we’re always learning new words, like “tweet” or “iPod,” or using old words in new ways, like “I’ll text you” or “I’ll google that.” (The original definition of “google,” as taught to me in 2nd grade before there even was a world wide web to search, was the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes.) I wonder if I’m losing words too, like all the ones I crammed into my head before the SAT. I feel like I should know what “supercilious” means, but I’m only 50% sure I do.

Do you keep recycling the same words and phrases over and over? I’ve noticed some tics in my friends and family, that I will keep private so they do not feel self-conscious and murder me. But I don’t think any of them have been saying, “sweeeeeet.”

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33 Comments

Christine • September 28, 2010 at 8:26 am

I had a Columbian friend ask me what “sweeeeet” meant the other day–had the hardest time explaining it to him. Told him it was kind of a thumbs up (he did not know what “rad” meant either). Bottom line… told him to not adopt the practice of saying it unless he plans to move to southern CA and surf (probably should have told him, “or move to NC”)

I say “that’s what she/he said” way too much. And recently my head nod includes a “yeh yeh yeh” What? And of course, I say “like” and “you know” more than necessary.

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Lesley • September 28, 2010 at 8:32 am

It’s not just weird words I acquire, it’s also the local South Yorkshire accent!

I have quite a neutral possibly”posh” English accent but find that I have picked up certain phrases in broad Yorkshire. It starts by me being “ironic” or jokey but before I know it the phrase has crept in, uncensored and without irony!! Yikes.

For example – “we had a right good night” pronounced “we had a rate good nate”. Makes me look a bit silly in certain contexts and I really try hard to stay true to my general “Queen’s English” tendencies….!

Good post – very thought provoking – Sweeeeet!

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Auntie Mandy • September 28, 2010 at 8:47 am

I always say “you know” and “uh” when I’m speaking because I am afraid to pause for fear of being interrupted. I do use “dude” mostly when I’m making fun of the kids in my classes (I am a non-traditional student) usually for their new piercings or “brilliant” ideas.

Dude! I’m gonna totally blog about this Emo kid later today!

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Mom • September 28, 2010 at 9:52 am

I believe your younger brother uses that “sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet” word quite frequently.

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Lanie • September 28, 2010 at 10:30 am

I know, right?!

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Jessica • September 28, 2010 at 10:44 am

What makes me laugh is the impact proximity has on my language. Especially “y’all.” I’m from the northeast (now in Colorado) and we don’t say ‘y’all”! But I work with a couple of southerners and it’s now creeping into my vocabulary. I’m sure it confuses the heck out of my good New England family!

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Caroline Calcote • September 28, 2010 at 10:52 am

We’re big Battlestar fans and say, “frak” all the time. My little boys (6 & 9) say it too, although they’ve never seen the show. Bad, bad parents. They also use the word “crap” frequently, which I don’t consider a bad word, and am very proud of myself for using rather than actually cursing in front of my kids (well, at least not often). However, I realize this does not sound very good to other grown-ups. I’m guess I’m just trying to teach my kids to curse intelligently.

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Leigh • September 28, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I find myself saying “dude,” which is embarrassing because I think I’m too old. Someone recently pointed out that I say, “yeah, yeah,” when someone is talking, also with the double head nod. I think I do that because it’s my “I’m listening,” response. But they were irritated because they thought it was “yeah, yeah hurry up,” rather than “I’m listening, go on.”

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tony • September 28, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Author Deborah Tannen has a neat book called “You Just Don’t Understand!” which mentions that women tend to do things to show they’re following the speaker – the yeah, yeahs, and the head nods and the uh-huhs we throw in. I note I do this a lot! I use “dude” to some of the men-friends in my office. And, yeah, I’ve said “sweeeeet!” more than my share of times.

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Kat • September 28, 2010 at 1:42 pm

“Holy Moly Rocky!”

Where did this come from? When did I start using it so often?

And after speaking with my sister in Texas, I was informed that “y’all” is singular and “all y’all” is plural.

Who knew?

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Naantje • September 28, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Oh, this definetely happens a lot to me in Dutch, my native language, and I’ve had quite my share of them in English too.

“So”, “like”, “you know”, “quite” (don’t ask, I’m still not sure how I could use that word so often, but I did!) and some other usual suspects…

By the way Jenette, your “About” section for make my blog pretty still says you live in Indianapolis, Indiana. You might want to update that. If I had a blog, I would hire you :)

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ticey • September 28, 2010 at 2:09 pm

supercillious means condescending. because i answer phones for a living in the repair dept of the evil company i work for, someone intent on screaming at me because she thought i was too stupid to get any other job was quite surprised that i used that correctly in a sentence. she sputtered for 15 seconds and then hung up. this bode well for my ‘average handle time.’

self-celebration also often appears in my blog entries and emails in the form of ‘go me.’

i use all sorts of words in lieu of verboten curses, especially at work, and, also, in front of stern and/or disapproving relatives. i’m quite fond of ‘holy hexagons’ and ‘what the Frogger’. go me.

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Mar • September 28, 2010 at 2:13 pm

it’s really funny that you wrote about this. i had been thinking about language lately. i seem to hang on to a word that i hear and overuse it for a few weeks and then it disappears out of my lexicon as fast as it came in. a few recent examples? “toodles” (ick), “accoutrements” and “super”.

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PastaQueen • September 28, 2010 at 2:31 pm

@Naantje – Thanks for letting me know about that. I fixed it.

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Nickole • September 28, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I say “absolutely” way too much!

Would you like to go out Friday night? Absolutely.

Do you like this _____ (fill in the blank)? Absolutely.

We should _____ (fill it in again). Absolutely!

ick.

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Leigh Ann • September 28, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Tony: Interesting. The person who was irritated with the “yeah, yeah” was male.

Kat: Y’all is plural. It is used for two or more persons. All y’all is used for a whole BUNCH of people. : ) (I’m a lifelong Texan.)

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Hopefool • September 28, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Last week I said, “For reals” and desperately wanted to take it back. Like you, not my subculture…

It drove me batty when my much younger sister began to call me “Dude” all of the time, so I don’t think I say that – unless it’s to an actual dude.

I love language though. So I have always adopted little words and phrases that served me, or that I thought made me look cool.

Like, y’all. That little doozie is indispensable to me since I learned it’s proper use from an online friend in Texas.

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Jean Roberts • September 28, 2010 at 6:05 pm

@Naantje –
Jennette is great!! Hiring her at Make My Blog Pretty to get my blog set up was like getting the best training wheels in the world. Now I’m on my own but I wouldn’t have been able to get things going without her.

I wish she had a logo or something that I could put on my blog to show folks that MMBP was involved.

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Natalie • September 28, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I don’t swear. If I try, I feel like a nerdy person trying to be street and cool, and it just makes me feel silly, it doesn’t come naturally. But sometimes, when I hurt myself or something, a word starts to come out and automatically gets changed by my politeness sub-routines – even if there is no-one listening. So I say:
ffffffff…..far out. And shhhhhhh…..weppervescence. Pathetic, isn’t it.

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Debby • September 28, 2010 at 8:16 pm

My favorite new word that I’m already saying way too much is “ignoranus.” An ignoranus is someone who is both an idiot AND an a##hole. I know or know of so many people who fit the word that it feels like I’m saying it almost every time I open my mouth. I need an intervention! :-)

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Roni • September 28, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I TOTALLY do this.

“TOTALLY” is one I use all the time when I write but not when I talk

I’m guilty of the “Dude” ALL the time. Never went out of the style for me.

And, I can’t believe I’m going to say this.. I go throw phases where I call people.. “Dooche.” Especially my husband. I believe I went through a jackass phase too. lol

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Nancy • September 28, 2010 at 11:17 pm

My husband pointed out the other day that I say ‘nifty’ a lot. I was horrified and disbelieving, but caught myself saying it later that day.

I say “”Far out”, “cool” and “awesome” a lot. I imagine it sounds pretty lame.

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Misty • September 29, 2010 at 12:36 am

@Auntie Mandy – That is true! I never thought about it until I read your post and it really hit home for me. I also have a tendency to want to drag on what Im saying out of fear of not being able to finish due to someone chiming in with what they feel is more important than hearing me out. I am so bad that sometimes I lose focus on what my original point was supposed to be just so I fill the air with my ramblings. Much like Im doing right now!

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Ro • September 29, 2010 at 12:31 pm

That’s funny. I’m so glad I don’t remember ever really using those kinds of words growing up. Although my 14yr niece used “dude!” a lot & my 16 yr old nephew is the “sweeet!’ user.

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Katherine • September 29, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Jeepers. I’m from Boston, but have lived in Ireland for the last 9 years. So now I say “Grand, so.” Meaning: “That’s good” or “Okay.” The Irish say it all the time. It’s from the Irish language, really, which all of their English is influenced by. I also say “You know, yourself.” American English equivalent: “You understand” or “You know what I mean.”

Siiigghhh.

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Andrea Lee • September 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm

sapid. I had to look that up today, and I KNOW I got it right on the GRE’s.

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Kimberly • October 2, 2010 at 9:52 pm

I can’t believe I am about to admit this, but I use “coolness” on a regular basis. I gleaned it from that stellar hit – Parker Lewis Can’t Lose.

But I also use What the Frak and Gorram all the time.

:hopes that redeems me from the lame PLCL usage:

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Amy • October 4, 2010 at 6:18 pm

@Katherine – I’ve been living in Ireland about 6 months now and was made fun of today for saying ‘awesome.’ I didn’t realize I was saying it but quickly became self conscious. She suggested I start using ‘brilliant’ but I’m just not comfortable with that yet! I might move to grand…

I’m guilty of a lot of ‘dude’ too.

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Jack • October 4, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Dude is the word that I use that is a definite weird slang word. Especially as used in the phrase “Awwwwwwwww Duuuuuudddddddddddddddde!!!”

One clarification, exposing my inner geek, “Frak” was a word from the original Battlestar Galactica in the 70′s, pre-dating basic cable.

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Jenni • October 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm

@Leigh – I am much too old as well, but I ‘dude’ people all the time. But I have learned that the worst person to ‘dude’ is your boss that is near retirement, everyone else seems to accept it with grace.

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Sarahviz • October 6, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I have a friend who intersperses her conversations with, “You know what I mean?” and now I find myself doing the same! Ugh.

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Deanna - The Unnatural Mother • October 8, 2010 at 6:59 am

“Nice!!”, “My Word!”, “SHUT UP” are my favs…

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Jennifer • October 9, 2010 at 8:46 am

Sa-WEEEET post today, Dude. Shiny!

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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