I used the word “arguably” in a spoken sentence yesterday, and my boss looked at me quizzically and said, “Did you just say ‘arguably’?”
But this isn’t really about my odd speech patterens; rather it’s about John McWhorter’s Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation Of Language And Music And Why We Should, Like, Care.
McWhorter laments the fact that Americans have lost appreciation for the beauties of formal rhetoric. He doesn’t diss spoken language, and as a linguist, he respects the grammatical fluidities of spoken languages, as well as the rhythms and timing that arise out of a communication that comes out of the speaker unedited and goes into the hearer with no opportunity for reflection.
All the same, America’s tradition of rhetorical appreciation is lost to a false idea of democracy and a rejection of formality as artificial and thus bad (actually bad, and not good “bad”).
And all my life I’ve been trying to incorporate elements of polished speech into my daily conversation. Not that I’ve succeeded — I have been known to forget the word “potato” — but if a four syllable word seems to fit what I’m saying, I’ll use it. Now I understand why people have always looked at me as if I were brandishing a loaded weapon.
Think how much better adjusted I’d be if I had understood this concept in fifth or sixth grade. Well, too late now. The geek synapses are too firmly set, and the amusement I’ve gotten over the years has more than paid off the exchange.
But now I understand why I got those looks.