I hate jargon. I’m not sure why. But I’m usually a late adopter, and always an early deserter. Some phrases flit in and out of fashion so quickly that I barely get a chance to try them on; they fly off the shelves before I can look myself in the mirror to see how they fit.
But some slang sticks. I’m talking of words with depth and meaning, words that have stood the test of time; the modern patois with the persistence of the pyramids. Someday, thousands of years from now, verbal-archeologists will be guiding awe-struck tourists through the hidden chambers of twentieth century idiomatic treasures.
For example, can any modern jargon match the multi-pillared, monumental endurance of the word, “Cool!”? I heard it first as a fourth grader. I immediately knew it to be the vernacular discovery of the century, comparable to unearthing King Tut’s tomb.
“Cool” had the legs of a fine wine. I sniffed its bouquet and sipped of its liquid resolve. I rolled it about in my mouth. I knew it to be vintage vocabulary.
A ten year old friend asked what I thought of the Beatles’ latest album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I had the perfect answer. I could express the harmonies, lyrics, and rhythm, all with one flawless, monolithic motif.
“It’s cool,” I said.
The self-conscious pretender
We think that our advances in technology mean we can improve anything. Like expressions of greatness. Let’s just admit that “Cool” is king. We can’t improve upon its excellence.
But we try. We tinker with verbal-sparkplugs and install slang-turbochargers, but some things were just born perfect. Sometimes we need to acknowledge that we have reached the apex of linguistic sophistication. No tinkering allowed. It isn’t cool
Take “groovy” for example. It flashed upon the world’s stage and tried to overthrow “cool.” The coup d’état failed because the would-be usurper “groovy” had a fatal flow. It is the catwalk-strutting fashion models that make clothes hip; chic clothes don’t make us supermodels.
I’ve met only one person who could say “groovy” naturally and make it work, my brother’s friend Kevin Ward. Because Kevin was born cool. All other users were self-conscious pretenders; “Groovy” didn’t praise an object as much as reveal the quality of the speaker.
I tried it once, choked, and spat it out. If, “cool” is vintage wine, “groovy” was tepid swamp water. I wasn’t cool enough; I couldn’t turn its water into wine. It needed a supermodel.
The exhausted pretender
Or take groovy’s modern day descendant, “awesome.” Please take it, dig a hole, and bury it. Give it a eulogy if you must. Just don’t describe its life as awesome. It wasn’t even groovy.
I’ve heard people attribute awesomeness to high thread-count sheets and earth-friendly shopping bags. I have news for you. They aren’t awesome. They aren’t even that cool. Though they might be considered nice. (Oh no, don’t get me started on “nice”.)
Awesome has its place. It should be revered. Like fine china, it should come out for high holidays, for those rare magnificent moments when even “cool” falls short.
But, alas; I too am stuck in the rut of “awesome” overuse. So maybe I’m groovy. If not cool.
I know, I know; I unfairly point fingers out there, when I should be looking inside. One of my own verbal intensification abuses is, “really” as in, “If we really believed God loves us,” or “I really feel bad about….” What can I say in my defense? I really like the word.
I misuse “literally” too, as in, “He literally said groovy.” What I literally meant was, “Hereally said it.”
But enough about my linguistic shortcomings. Yours are more fun. We use these words—cool, groovy, awesome, and literally (let’s pardon, “really”)—in order to express the intensity of our experience. We wish to share the depth of our feelings with others. And sharing is cool.
The worst intensification offense of the modern era—I bet we all agree on this—is the excessive, abusive, depraved perversion of the simple word, “like,” as in,
“I was, like, going to the, like, bank, like fast, when, like out of nowhere, like crazy-like, I like forgot where I was, like, going; I got, like, lost.”
Let us clue you in. We were lost on the third “like.” There has only been one valid use of the intensifier, “like.” Born in the sixties, it’s enduring magnificence should be chiseled upon Stonehenge:
“Like Wow, man!”
The worst offender
Perhaps my greatest intolerance for jargon is the mumbo jumbo found in business lingo; it’s the over-used, hyper-inflation, ritual-language of flimflam. Here are a few of my favorites:
- It’s time for a paradigm shift. This is usually the preamble to a bold, new vision.
- A bold, new vision. They are seldom bold, never new, and rarely visionary. It normally means, Uh, we’re gonna try to do twice as much work with half as many people. Again.
- Right-size. This is the gist of bold new visions. Someday I’d love to see the right-sizing of executive salaries. That might really be a bold, new vision. And cool. Awesome even.
- Let’s think outside the box. This is coded language for, “Everything we’ve tried so far has failed. It’s time for a paradigm shift.”
I’m a jargon curmudgeon (/kərˈməjən/), a word that should never fade from style because curmudgeons are the coolest people on earth. They care not a whit for what is in vogue.
They think outside the box.