Thursday, April 30, 2009

Platypus much?

I'm the first to admit that I may be somewhat culturally retarded because I don't watch television. I haven't had even so much as basic cable in 20 years and, when I do catch television at a friend's house or in restaurants, I realize I am not missing much. I have a DVD player and Netflix and I watch the news on the internet so I manage to bungle through. However what this means is I am continually befuddled by the popularity of TV-Speak. All those catch phrases and “witticisms” that some clever scriptwriter thought up and which catch the public imagination are a mystery to me until I hear them --- and their dreadful variations --- often enough.


The latest one is the “----- much?” one. I admit I don't know where it comes from or what the original first word in that was but so many people have done so many ridiculous variations on it that I've taken notice. Now, as anyone who has gotten through English 101 knows, the word “much” can be either an adjective or an adverb, but when used in a 2 word sentence followed by a question mark, one would assume it is an adverb. That means that the word it modifies needs to be a verb. It needs to be a verb to make it a sentence. Remember?


For most people this doesn't seem to be a problem. They say things like “think much?” or “talk much?” and that makes sense albeit not particularly clever sense but not everyone wants to be clever. But what has started grating on my finely tuned nerves is the dullards who stick a noun in there and then chuckle at their own cleverness. Dumb much? Nitwit much? Bore much? This came to my attention when I was in a recent online political discussion with someone and I objected to someone's use of the word “backwoods” to describe the people of Pennsylvania, my home state. (Yes, you guessed it, it was a discussion about Arlen Specter.) I said her term “backwoods Pennsylvanians” was uncalled for and she countered by accusing me of being a “racist” and snapped, “Racist much?”


Well. Now how does an intelligent, literate person respond to that?


First of all, when did “backwoods” become a race? Actually, I'm sure there are a lot of publicly funded institutions that would like it very much if was. Throughout the years grant and funding opportunities for people of color have been much sought after. Imagine if those of us who grew up in rural areas and who would happily identify ourselves as “backwoods” could count toward garnering additional funds? Or count as contributing to diversity? I really have no issue with the word “backwoods” per se but in the context of that discussion her intention was obvious, however ridiculous.


But it was the final shot - “Racist much?” - that I found discouraging. How does one “racist”? Did I miss the addition to the dictionary of the new verb “to racist”? As little as I watch television I might have.


I've accepted the fact that TV-Speak is a permanent part of American culture and, even though I often am befuddled by it, it is harmless --- unoriginal and dull, but harmless. But if you are going to let Hollywood scriptwriters write your conversation points for you, could you at least try to use them within the context of understandable grammar? I know that, along with cultural literacy, is dying too. But please don't pull the plug before it's time.


Thanks for reading.

3 comments:

carlarey said...

How does objecting to a sweeping cultural generalization make you a racist?

Kathleen Valentine said...

Good question......

I think she was in a snit about Specter's choice and was just trying to get back at someone... anyone...

Siffe said...

Hey Kathleen Valentine

I just have bought your e-book from http://www.valentine-design.com/MermaidShawl/,
... but it stopped downloading halfway!
And disappeared from my pc ---
I have payed by PayPal
Could you please help me?

Kindly Siffe from Denmark

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