Watching the penultimate episode of this season’s Downton Abbey (note: this is not a spoiler unless perhaps you are a deep period language nerd, in which case let’s be friends,) I noticed that various characters used the word “stuff” at least half a dozen times, each time with a sort of pause before it and real emphasis behind it, as if to highlight that The Times, They Are A Changing and The Slang, It Is Entering the Noble Classes. (It was always the younger characters saying it- no “stuff” for “What is a week-end?” Dowager Violet, safe to say.)
And while I found this a little annoying while watching (me: “why is everybody saying ‘stuff’ all the time in this episode? It’s super distracting.” John: “You notice weird things.”) I am totally guilty of doing the same thing: enjoying a particular expression or turn of phrase so much that I end up unintentionally overusing it like some sort of SAT-word-dropping smugface.
You want examples? Well, for one, I use “exercised” as a synonym for “worked up,” which is something my parents have always said but which I recently discovered other people find weird. (Used in a sentence: “I am not usually one to get exercised about minor delays, but when I’ve made a reservation and have to wait for a table anyway I cross over from ‘polite customer’ into ‘total b*tch.’”)
Others: I am fond of “articulated“ used as an adjective to describe something that has joints (Articulated bus! Articulated fence! Articulated arm on a doll! ); I often simply declare “false!” when I disagree with a proposition or sweeping declaration; I say “esoteric” and “dilettante” and “idiosyncratic” more than is strictly necessary.
And that’s not even getting into the ridiculous verbal shortcuts/strange inside joke phrases that pepper our family vernacular. “Okey dokey artichokey” is one of Poppy’s favorite things to say. Whenever we’re having trouble carrying/are about to drop something, we complain that we’re “losing gription” (mercilessly mocking a friend who used this non-word, repeatedly, during a harrowing day spent helping friends move their very large furniture out of the very tiny stairwell in their apartment building.) We routinely refer to shady characters as being “shifty like penguin.” (Origin: another friend, asked incredulously why he didn’t like penguins, said with a completely straight face and without irony: “I don’t trust them. They’re shifty.”)
I love this about language: the ever-changing nature of it, the nuance, how the same idea can be expressed in dozens of different ways. So humor a language dork: what are some of your most beloved/overused words? Strange phrases you and your family use as shorthand? I live for this stuff!