I literally Can’t Even


A friend of mine related a story in which one of his characters was engaged in the activity of reaching out. It was something like “John reached out the other night.”

I said, “Oh no, what was the problem?”

My friend looked a bit confused and said, “There was no problem, he just wanted to talk.”

Sometimes I am faced with evidence that I am old and this is often at the hands of language. “Reaching out” is just one little part of an alarming trend I’ve noticed wherein I don’t understand what people say or what they mean by the words they use to convey ideas. I think I used to understand. When I do understand, I am annoyed by what I understand. It’s understandably vexing.

For example, some time ago in the past, when I wasn’t looking, the term “reach out” replaced the words “call” or “contact.” Despite the fact that I have heard it enough to gather its updated meaning, I still can’t shake my initial impression of the term, which implies that someone reaching out is in dire need of a therapeutic talk. If he’s reaching out, he better be Neil Diamond and he better then be touching you and then touching me, and if he’s not then I am annoyed.

There are more. The word “literally” has fallen so far from grace that it’s actually become its antonym. Words evolve, “brave” used to mean “cowardly,” and this original definition is captured in its sister phrase “bravado.” So this has surely happened before, but I bet whoever was alive when “brave” started meaning its opposite were pretty irked by it.

One of my favorite activities is explaining the current changes in the world to my dad during our Sunday afternoon chats. I update him on social mores and trends, how technology can allow him to get a picture right in his inbox. In particular I try to help him understand neologisms and new phraseology. No, I know BFF sounds like a McDonald’s sandwich, but it means best friends. Yes, I know it’s dumb. No, I don’t know what’s happening to language. I tell him the acceptable and unacceptable nomenclature for various groups of people. No, no. Please don’t call them that anymore…at least not in front of other people.

I often enjoy poking fun at him because of how out of touch he is, but admittedly, I’m often as confused as he is. The only reason I can assist him is because I work with young people who watch young people shows and movies and then they use this young people language in front of me. That or I see it on Facebook.

A great deal of the time I spend on Facebook is in vast confusion, and of all the new uses of old words I must admit to being conflicted by the use of the word “this.” You have seen it, a person posts a video or article of scorching political or social commentary and their only comment is “This.” On one hand I admire the ability to convey so much with such efficiency and concision. On the other hand I roll my eyes at the laziness. No need to write a witty intro or a hook, just write “this” and everyone will apply their own ideas. Just give me a verb after this, like sucks or rocks or even a noun like idiot or genius would clarify things. But no, you let the reader do all the work. In ten years half of social media content will be headlined by the single demonstrative “This.”

If half of Facebookers use “this” in the future, the other half won’t even get that far. This is based on the already over used phrase “I can’t even.” Again, a concise phrase to convey lots of feelings: lost hope, frustration, exasperation. The phrase itself is a brilliant almost metaphorical representation of it all. But “I can’t even,” like its post brother “this,” just seems to be a very easy way of not trying at all.

There’s no use getting worked up about it, language changes and it usually does so to make things more convenient or easier to convey. But sometimes I can’t even. And when I can’t even, I reach out to my bff and we meet at a bar, and we drink literally a hundred beers.

  1. #1 by PJ on November 13, 2017 - 8:04 pm

    For me, the worst one is when someone says that something is “everything”. As in, “The guy in that video is everything!”

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