Our language is shrinking. It’s a known fact that we are using fewer words in our culture to communicate. Is it because of the pace of life in general, work, or the family inertia whirling us around kids’ activities? For sure brevity is forced on us, no time to elaborate, right? “Just the facts ma’am,” as Sergeant Friday would say. Now, Joe Friday would say, “Keep it to 140 characters, ma’am.” (Forever polite). And it is not so much the language or the number of words used, but the English language; as in, words are disappearing (or the “death-rate” as linguists describe it). This means that the birth rate, new words, is not exceeding the death-rate, disappearing words. Of course there are new words being adopted into our culture as well. How about this, put an “i” in front of any cool gotta-have gadget thing, like iPod then make iMattress. You know that has been done, right? But don’t use that formula in a bar, when you see a cool gotta-have gadget thing, as in, “can I buy you a drink, igirl.”
When is the last time the word “trousers” came out of your mouth? One facilitator of the death-rate is that old words are not being used simply because they are old, maybe considered mundane, possibly indicating your age, like a reference to the old TV show Dragnet would. Another reason for the increase in the death-rate may be other cultural influences. Since we just spoke of a TV show, let’s all admit the telly has an influence and definitely, disproportionately more than it deserves.
So what do you watch on television? Are you like most of America, gobbling up the angst of others by watching reality TV. Since 67% of the television viewed by adults is reality programming, you’re likely in front of your HD LED 3D TV, laughing or crying while riding the emotional rollercoaster of a non-actor trying not to act as they perform some sort of task. Sometimes the task is simply living their life, like say hunting alligators, or dealing with the OCD dejour. Isn’t the list of options endless, like testing survival skills or finding love……..in some cases this is one and the same.
Now think about the script - I mean dialogue - that exists in reality TV. How much of a workout does the English language get? (About the same as A-Rod and Jeter this year in the Bronx - not much). Simple words are deployed, devoid of any color and arranged in such a fashion that they rarely complete a sentence – just a couple of examples: Honey Boo Boo and Jersey Shore characters never complete a thought let alone a sentence. Sidenote: Honey Boo Boo’s mom and Snooki are the same person, same close set eyes, high cheekbones, and short legs - different fat suit and make-up on a very good actor the way I see it. And the advertising dollars seeking the much-coveted 18-34 demographic gush into the space, thus the 67% number. You might say, “but I’m 50,” so this does not apply to me. But don’t we all like to be associated with younger things, thoughts, toys, people, or just stuff like TV shows that have young people doing crazy things?
Take the word “awesome,” for example. It took the place of both “great” and “good”. Even though those two words represent a range, the need for drama replaced both words. Now it is “amazing” which has taken over for “awesome” as well as GOOD and GREAT because they were already consumed by “awesome.” And even “amazing” has a limited shelf-life ever since the word “epic” entered our hyperbolic vernacular. Take a look at the Bachelorette where everything is “amazing” and you’ll recognize the paradox. You will not hear, “The swirling emerald color of your dress makes your eyes dance like field flowers in a summer breeze.” But you will hear, “That dress is amazing,” (along with her shoes, or the helicopter ride, or the dinner served on the date). And therein lies the paradox: everything is amazing except our vocabulary.
So become even more “amazing” yourself and be more thoughtful as you craft your language. You’ll be surprised how much more you’ll enjoy your customer interactions. And by the way, Desiree did look amazing in that green dress and I’m amazed to this day that she cut Juan Pablo…but I don’t really get into reality TV.
Joe Lyon lives in Missouri with his two kids, one dog, and the perfect wife who keeps it all grounded. He serves as a Group VP of National Accounts for Leggett & Platt’s Bedding Group. Joe enjoys golf as much as frustration allows, and often wishes he’d tried boxing at an earlier age.