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Tuesday
Mar202012

American Exceptionalism

   About this time last year, I heard an American tourist give the following eyewitness account of the riots in Cairo:

    “We actually arrived here on Wednesday night, um, after everything had been going on. We actually got stopped at the airport. The tourist police stopped our bus at the airport because there were protestors on the street . . . They were throwing, like, . . . flame Molotov cocktails. There were, there was, like, explosions, uh, teargas canisters, fires were everywhere . . . The second wave came at about four thirty or five and there were like tens of thousands of people just coming over that bridge . . .” 

   Ugh.

   I had to turn the news off. I had heard enough. The cruelty, the barbarism. I couldn’t bear to hear the English language brutalized anymore.

   When did Americans start speaking like morons?

 

   A few years ago while visiting the States I went for a drive with my nephew. Every other word out of the boy’s gob was “like”, and after thirty minutes of it my ears started to ring, so whenever he said “like” I gave his earlobe a flick. Call me the Miracle Worker, if you like, but before long I had cured the boy of this annoying tic. Perhaps, we can introduce this method in American schools.[1]

  “Like”, unfortunately, is only, like, the beginning of this “American exceptionalism”. Listen to an American try to explain something and they’ll inevitably use the modifier “basically”.[2] Now, I’m a big fan of the NPR’s Planet Money podcast, but I’ll be damned if the reporters can’t get through a single episode without saying this word a half dozen times. “Actually” is another word I cannot stand.[3] When used correctly the word is innocuous, but used at the head of every nearly every paragraph it just grates on my nerves. The adjectives “amazing” and “awesome” have got to go, too.

 

 If Neil Armstrong were a modern American teenager:

   Dude, that’s, like, one small step for a man, one awesome leap for, like, mankind.

 FDR as an American teen:

    So, basically, let me just say that I, like, believe the only thing we, like, gotta be ‘fraid of is, like, fear itself.

 Lincoln as a modern American teenager:

   About, like, 90 years ago some really smart dudes made, like, a country on this, um, continent with, like, some really amazing ideas, like, liberty. And it was, um, dedicated to the idea that we’re all, like, equal.

 Kennedy as a modern American teenager:

   Man, don’t be fucking asking, like, what the country can do for you an’ shit like that, you know? Ask, um, like, what you can, um, what you can do for, like, your country.

 The Declaration of Independence if made on Facebook:

   hey guys! basically we think these truths are, like, duh! u no, everybody is, like, the same, u no, equal and, all everything . . . and, um, god gave them, like, rights and stuff like, life, liberty and, um, oh yeah, happiness.

 Palin is a modern American teenager:

  There were a lot of WTF moments throughout that speech . . . That was another one of those WTF moments. He needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space, yeah, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it led to the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union. (Unfortunately, this was verbatim.)

 


[1] I had the pleasure of overhearing a young Scottish woman crying into her beer the other day and every other word out of her mouth was “like”, too. The English language is doomed.

[2] Enrich your vocabulary and impress your friends! Try some of these adverbs on for size: fundamentally, essentially, in essence; firstly, first of all, first and foremost, primarily; at heart, at bottom, au fond; principally, chiefly, above all, most of all, mostly, mainly, on the whole, by and large, substantially; intrinsically, inherently; informal at the end of the day, when all is said and done. (Courtesy of The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus)

[3] Enrich your vocabulary some more! Really, in (actual) fact, in point of fact, as a matter of fact, in reality, in actuality, in truth, if truth be told, to tell the truth; literally; truly, indeed.

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