So one of the curious things that I learned—and remembered—from my linguistics class, was that languages evolve—endlessly and continually. Those of us who take a certain amount of pride in thinking we speak and write well, cringe and lift our self-righteous brows at the sound of mismatched tenses, improper conjugations, and those ugly little prepositions that pop up at the end of sentences. It is so easy to forget that we are trying to harness a growing beast. Our language is as static as a cancer. It has morphed beyond recognition from its early origins as a mess of German and Dutch dialects that moved into Britain through the mouths of invaders. And to say that we Americans speak “English” is an affront to the poor Brits, whose ultra-proper speech we often need subtitles to interpret.
So I’m curious. When did the word “so” push out the infamous filler words, “um, ah, and well?” One day I crawled out of the hole I hide out in and discovered a whole new word usage had stormed the American linguistic scene. Listen to NPR for a day and count how many times you hear a guest speaker, reporter, or commentator begin a sentence with that helpless little word, “so.” Hearing it so often, pardon my poor pun, I start to get annoyed, but then I remember dear Mary Ellen Ryder’s admonitions to her linguistic students. “Speech patterns are different. But there are no wrong speech patterns.”
So in the grand scheme of differing and evolving speech patterns, I guess I can handle that tiny filler word a lot easier than the rudely clichéd “at the end of the day” idiom which I think began on network news stations around 1990 and spread like a plague through all tiers of communication.
So what idioms, grammatical ticks, or newly minted words send shivers down your spine?