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Down on the Farm: Rules update

Eric Bergeson

Every so often, the rules of conversational English need to be updated. When I find out who actually writes the rules, I am going to submit the following suggestions:

No person over the age of twenty-three shall use the term "dude."

Twenty years ago, juveniles filled empty space in their conversations with the word "like." Today, they say "dude." Over and over. It means nothing, and signifies nothing more than damp air between the ears.

The use of "dude" is forgivable if you are under 18. You probably don't have anything of greater interest to say, anyway. But after age twenty-three, the word "dude" must give way to actual adult conversation or you probably won't get hired for anything above minimum wage.

No person over the age of thirty shall use the term "awesome" except to describe a huge mountain range, a massive thunderstorm, or a long home run.

When I order a hamburger from you, just say "okay," or "would you like fries?" Do not respond with the word "awesome." My hamburger order is not awesome. Your hair is not awesome. Your job is not awesome. Your friends aren't awesome, either. Mountain ranges are awesome.

Some baby boomers insist upon extending their use of the word "cool" into their fifties. You don't want to mess with the baby boomers. So, let's just say the word "cool" has to go after you get your first social security check.

Lately, a new annoying phrase has arisen. After saying something offensive, people cover their tracks by adding the phrase, "I'm just sayin!"

Apparently, if you add "just sayin!" to your observation that somebody could afford to lose twenty pounds, it insulates you from the charge that you're a jerk for bringing it up. Let's just say that the term "just sayin" is inappropriate for people of all ages.

The word "exactly" is apparently now pronounced "ex-ACT-ly." It becomes more annoying every time it is used as a substitute for "I agree."

The word "exactly," pronounced, "ex-ACT-ly," is not only grating to the ear, but its use is usually dishonest and cloying. Nobody agrees that closely with what has just been said! Unless it is used to describe an actual mathematical measurement, let's just ban the use of the term "exactly" for all ages.

Same goes for the term "absolutely." In this case, I am absolutely guilty.

About twenty-five years ago, I was asked on the spur of the moment to provide color commentary for the broadcast of a local high school wrestling match. I jumped at the chance and quickly called home to make sure my sportscasting debut was preserved on tape for posterity.

When I rewound the tape and pushed play, the first word out of my mouth was, "absolutely!" The third word was also, "absolutely!" As was the fifth, the ninth, the sixteenth and the twenty-third. "absolutely!" again. I shredded the tape and gave up my sportscasting dream for good.

Another annoying current conversational habit has more to do with tone than usage. About fifteen years ago, it became fashionable, particularly for women, to end every phrase, even a declarative sentence, as a question.

"I mean, I am, like, really not liking this chicken kiev?"

"I'm not so sure I am going to buy Christmas gifts this year?"

This awful habit has wormed its way into the conversation of otherwise educated and erudite people, and it must stop.

If you have a question, end your sentence on the upswing like it is a question. But when you make a declarative statement, such as "I like my steaks well done," end the statement with firmness and authority. It is as if people think an anvil will drop on their head if they actually express what they think!

The source of the "just sayin" scourge, as well as the unfortunate but pervasive habit of ending declarative sentences in a question, is more psychological than linguistic.

People apparently lack the courage to express their thoughts in unapologetic terms. Or, they don't want to take the lumps that might follow the honest expression of a thought. So, they insulate themselves by ending their statement in a question, or by following it with a "just sayin."

Little do they realize that their fake apologetic tone makes them look as ignoble as a cowering dog.

And I am not "just sayin!"