Saturday, September 28, 2013

Don't 'whatever' me, ever



      My least favorite word in the English language is “whatever.” It says absolutely nothing. Silence is often the better way of filling dead airspace.
     Whatever makes me feel hopeless, and with it comes a loss of control over the way I want to express myself as a unique human being. I should not have to put a conditional term tagged on to the end of what I’ve said.
    Besides, there is no doubt about it. Whatever is a downright rude reply. It is dismissing someone’s thoughts as trite or worthless. 
     Texting and other social media sound bytes have created a style of quick talk that makes it easy to say, whatever, as a neutral, non-judgmental reply without having to interject any personal opinion.
     This is another example illustrating how modern slang has transformed us into a society becoming more inarticulate and unable to foster intelligent conversation.
     A fluent speaking style is one that I admire in another person. There are so many combinations of beautiful words woven into stories as an art form dating back to early mankind gathering in clans around the fire.
     Whatever is a foggy, fuzzy word. Will whatever becomes the buzzword in the 2014 political campaign? Think how much spin a pr doctor could put on a statement already so confusing you shake you head in disgust exclaiming, whatever. I certainly hope not.
     Problem-solving strategies and thinking skills, which fewer and fewer children are taught (thank you, educational bureaucracy for your blessed state testing), leaves students high and dry when creative expression requires more than bubbling in a multiple choice answer.
     I have come too far in life not to give and receive wisdom by engaging with another person in conversation. A time commitment is involved. Often it is a win-win for both, and it doesn’t matter whether or not I am talking with a child or an adult further along in age. I won’t know until I am willing to share what’s on my mind.     
    Whatever is a slang term meaning “whatever you say” and “I don't care what you say.” You can find whatever in the dictionary with such a general meaning that is suitable for a lot of applications.
     Whatever started out as street word lingo, but it has weaseled its way into common speech. Then again, the casualness of our society not just in speech, but also in manner and dress, brings on a lot of breaks in the traditional standard.
     In the late 20th and early 21st century, the word became a sentence in its own right; in effect an interjection, it is used as a passive-aggressive conversational blocking tool, leaving the responder without a convincing retort. Anything they do or say can simply be blocked by the retort of whatever.
     The first TV example will date you a bit. In a 1965 episode of “Bewitched” the character Endora exclaims, “Alright, whatever” to her daughter, lead character Samantha Stevens. The popular series set reruns in motion swirling, up and away on a broomstick entertaining younger generations with enchanting episodes.
    Archie Bunker, the husband you would like to forget, was a frequent user. In “All in the Family,” which premiered in 1971, Archie would give dismissive responses to his wife, Edith Bunker, who was clamoring to make housewifery respectable. I, for one, would hop up out of my armchair and give Archie a piece of my mind about his treatment of women.
    Prevalent among the affluent “valley girls” of California in the 1980s, it was known to be offensive as in saying, “I don't think what you are saying is relevant.” It became so chic to be part of the “in crowd” as a teen that a flip remark such as, whatever, was part of daily relationships that were tenuous in the first place.
     Parents of teenagers, those who work with that age group at school and in sports agree that whatever is the most annoying phrase that they hear. “It simply is not acceptable in my classroom,” a teacher replied to me.
     I fell victim to whatever, and it hit home hard recently when I was standing in a buffet line and sliding my eyes down the table at the array of foods.
     There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the order of the dishes placed on the table. Certainly salads go with salads. Desserts are not to be co-mingled in the line-up. Or does it really matter? It’s a casual meal.  Alas, I said the word aloud letting it slip out before I could catch myself.
      The woman standing next overheard what I had muttered. She must have had the identical thought, and I had added fuel to her discontent. She started making a comment about how it would be better if such and such- she paused.
     I wasn’t going to bite. I had said my piece, and it wasn’t productive prolonging the discussion. Furthermore, there was no sense antagonizing the people in charge who had done all the hard work.
     You hear someone say something clever or catchy, and suddenly it’s coming out of your own mouth as if you had invented it. Be careful about getting into a verbal rut and using the same word or phrase over and over.
     Ban whatever once and for all from your speech, and encourage your loved ones to do the same.