Debasement Is Not Just a Damp Room Under Your House

     

When I opened my Sunday New York Times to a story on Derek Jeter this week I was stumped from the first word. I had to ask my daughter to define OMG. "I use it all the time," she said. "Where have you been?"

"Oh my God," I reminded her. "In France."

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Visitors, foreign and American-born, are finding communication increasingly difficult as catchwords proliferate. Often they seem to come from the schoolyard.

Just how debased can the English language become and still be called English? I pondered this question as I attempted to function in the U.S. after living an extended period in Europe.

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The day before my OMG experience, an angry motorist in Boston wanted to share his opinion of my driving skills. He held up his right hand to his forehead and formed an "L" with his thumb and index finger extended. "Loser," my 12-year-old grandson translated. As I grumbled unintelligibly, my grandson held up three fingers and rotated his hand to the left. The "W" became an "E", shorthand for "whatever."

I assume American adults will be doing the "whatever" sign to each other eventually, just as they picked up the l-word. ("Whatever" as a spoken word regrettably seems here to stay.)

Kids used to borrow language from adults. Now the opposite is happening. Is this country regressing?

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September 23, 2010