In a post last week I wrote about having used a certain word to a traffic cop that made him so mad the veins in his neck stood out. That word was “Look” as in, “Look, I’m happy to move!” I can’t remember if I actually said “There’s no need to be unpleasant about it” or if I merely thought it.
While “Look” used to be a harmless enough word, today it’s used like a weapon, as in argument or political debate. Today it means, “Look, idiot,” something you probably don’t want to be caught saying to a cop.
Other words and phrases have hidden meanings, too: When, for example, a person says, “It’s all good,” what he really means is, “Can you please calm down the heck down and stop catastrophizing?”
When I myself hear “It’s all good,” I think of the character called Algernon in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest: After his friend Jack says that something is the truth, plain and simple, he replies merrily that the truth is rarely plain and never simple and that modern life would be very tedious if it were either.
If “it” stands for our general situation I think we can all agree that “it” is never all one thing or all another. It may SEEM like a harmless bit of rah-rah to say that it’s all good, but I’m pretty sure even the people who use it don’t mean it that way.
Then there are phrases that you may not need a translator for:
When, for example, someone says, “Don’t get me wrong, I love her to death,” you just know that the next sentence will be nasty. “I love her to death,” “I love him to death:” such phrases never come without that cruelly qualifying word “but” hard on their heels.
The same is true with “No offense,” which is invariably uttered either immediately before or immediately after some doozy of an insult.
So too, when a person begins a sentence with “Not for nothing,” it means…. Well to be honest I’m STILL not sure what “not for nothing” means, with its strange double negative, but I have noticed that it’s generally followed by a long self-pitying lament.
If you come into the kitchen before going out and your mother says “Is that what you’re wearing?” you know that it means you can either go change, or get in an argument; the choices are that limited.
Finally, we would all do well to learn the latest fresh meaning for the word “Really,” once employed as a simple adverb but now used ironically. These days, “Really?” is delivered as a question, as in “You are seriously doing [or saying, or thinking] this highly uncool thing?” It’s said just that way, and conveys a whole universe of judgment.
I’m not wild about it. To me it seems loathsomely high and mighty but hey maybe I’m wrong. I could probably write a grouchy little piece every week on this topic and never run out of examples but i guess the main lesson here is that can’t be too careful about what you say—especially to a cop when you’re the one who’s illegally parked.