“To be honest,” the coffee drinker said, “basically, at the end of the day, it is what it is. Y’know what I’m sayin’?”
His frappuccino-sipping companion replied, “Needless to say, that sucks 24/7.”
I jotted each utterance verbatim — God have mercy — so as not to miss the gravity of this exchange. I heard the above cud-chewing phrasing the other day at a local Starbucks as I read the morning paper.
I wanted to insert myself into the conversation these millennial men were having by screaming, “You aren’t saying anything at all.” But, as a martyr to courtesy, I remained an eavesdropper rather than the buttinsky teacher I had been for over 35 years.
Even if I had known the context, their rhetorical gurgling amounted to nothing more than dogs barking at the vacuum cleaner.
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Let’s parse the dialogue, shall we?
“To be honest,” the luridly tattooed one began, which suggests honesty is not a habit.
“Basically,” he said, an expression I have always found wanting because of its condescending implication. When someone uses “basically,” that person suggests that the party to whom he or she speaks cannot cut through complexity; the speaker must stoop to make matters clear to the dolt on the other end of the exchange.
“At the end of the day,” an expression that clutters our everyday speech, gains no traction (another cliché placed here for demonstration purposes only) because of its commonness, its lack of original thought.
“It is what it is” is nothing more than bacon fat. It sizzles a little the first time one smells it, but it is rhetorical rendering — nothing to bite, just a small greasy flavor.
Finally, “Y’know what I’m sayin’?” gains the distinction of coming from people who say almost nothing worth hearing. That expression begs the listener to nod or act in some compliant manner. It is, I suppose, a polite way to keep the conversation going, but it too amounts to nothing but wind through bellows.
Then, the second young man, the one with a jeweled safety pin impaling his eyebrow, added his stunning approval. “Needless to say,” by its own admission, is needless to say. That 24/7 tag, then, remains simply a clichéd abbreviation for the span of time the speaker avoids choosing the right words in the right word slots.
Our conversational speech has devolved to the level of grunts and vacant exchanges denoting a lack of thought. Perhaps it has always been that way. But I doubt it.
Developments in digital communication trend across our screens, and one little rhetorical sneeze (“Yada-Yada-Yada,” “Been there, done that”) can infect a vast viewing public. Standard conversational tools have become cut-and-paste applications, similar to emojis. Agreed, language passes on by imitation, but never before has it spread like wildfire across the deadwood of our electronic contraptions.
We live during an era when everything is awesome. “You want butter for your dinner roll?” “That would be awesome.” “Here’s the awesome butter for your awesome dinner roll.”
Mind you, when an eruption column rose 15 miles into the atmosphere above Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, and the north side of the mountain collapsed, creating the largest earth slide ever recorded, the word “awesome” fit the event.
With all due respect, one must think about the denotation of a word before it drools from one’s mouth.
Speaking of which, let’s give a group wince when someone begins an address with the phrase “With all due respect.” Ooo-wee, look out! It means conflict, disagreement, and indicates the speaker lacks respect toward the one lectured. Even so, it is probably better than “I’ll tell you what.” One baseball color commentator rarely offers a comment without using that phrase.
Words matter. They reflect what we think, who we are. When we open our mouths, we should be mindful of Homer’s advice: “Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.”
After the two millennials left the coffee shop, I returned to the newspaper and enjoyed the eloquence of silence.
Steilacoom resident Steve Jaech retired from Pierce College, where he taught literature and composition. He is one of six regular reader columnists finishing a year writing for the TNT. Contact him at email@example.com.