Here are some communication issues I'd like to see addressed over the next few months in everyone's lives.
First, how often do you say "That's wrong on so many levels," or "That was a great experience on so many levels?" When people say "...on so many levels," aren't they really just saying, "very?" Should we blame Emeril for always taking things to notches yet unknown in the stratosphere? Should we ask the King of Hyperbole to maybe take it down a notch?
I have noticed that when you ask the people how many levels they mean, or what the difference is between these levels, they're generally quite put-off. Or else they just ignore you for being some sort of dolt.
I adore hyperbole. I really do. But the current use of it reminds me of George Orwell's statement on the use of metaphor. "A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically 'dead' has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness." Put another way, saying "on so many levels" all the time about everything renders the phrase impotent, and frankly, tiresome.
Well, really, now is the perfect time to tell you, all you dear readers and writers, to read this essay excerpt on making good language choices.
He makes me feel so lazy, but I agree with every word. Some of his examples are outdated, but they should remind you of many that are used and overused in today's vernacular. And by vernacular, I really just mean speech. :-)
This brings me to my next pet peeve of the era, the term "issues." We've all got loads of them. They are our excuse for everything, and I've come to loathe the word. In fact, when I used it in my first sentence, I cringed, until I realized that was a legitimate use of the word. It still feels a little slimy, but I left it there to prove my point.
Issue originally meant "bring forth," but when I looked it up just now to be certain I wasn't making that up, I found that dictionary.com lists 28 common definitions for the word, and several others which are archaic or idiomatic.
Think "magazine issue," or the issue of blood coming from the chick in the crowd who was healed by Jesus when she touched the hem of his garment. The 6th definition sort of relates to how the word is commonly used now, "a point, matter, or dispute, the decision of which is of special or public importance: the political issues." But all the rest have to do with proceeding, distribution, and the like.
My "issue" with the word "issue," is not the false use of it, however. It's the continual use of it. When you say to someone "I've got issues with that," what are you really saying? You're saying you disagree. Well, why don't you just bloody disagree? British readers, feel free to translate "bloody" into "fucking," if that makes you more comfortable. ;-)
Here's the problem. We've emasculated our thoughts, so afraid to offend by merely disagreeing. To disagree in our supposedly polite society is to denigrate the views of the other person or group. BUT THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE. You denigrate your own views by watering them down this way in order to placate those who hold different ones. You subjugate the value of your opinions, which leads me to believe you don't hold them very strongly. Why bother, then?
The other misuse of the term is the psychological application of it. We're all psychologists these days. Everyone has issues with everything they don't handle well. Having issues means it's something not entirely within your control. I have some issues of my own. I have issues with acrid and sour smells. They make me start to puke, so I don't like to be around them. I have issues with bureaucracy so I avoid phone calls, forms, and formal procedures as much as possible. I have issues with competition so I don't enjoy "reality" television.
The first problem, the smell thing, that's physical, and it's always been there. I can't get attuned to it. And since I actually am now allergic to many forms of mold, it's probably self-protecting, since mold smells are akin to those I've always felt sick around. But then, it's not an issue, is it? It's just a problem; sometimes a minor annoyance, sometimes a situation to avoid.
Those other issues aren't problems. The red tape thing, that's borne of a reserved nature and some bad experiences. It's a reaction. The competition thing, possibly the same set of causes. It's not an issue, it's a preference.
But I get to call them all issues.
You might have issues with waiters who act like they're your best friend instead of someone who's paid to serve you. So do I. You might have issues with people who eat meat in front of you, or the soap dispensers in public restrooms, or the guy in the cubicle next door who rolls his chair around so violently your little fake walls shudder with every movement.
You might have more serious issues, like alcoholism, dyslexia, or fear of bacteria, but really, they're all the same at this point. When you call every challenge or annoyance an issue, you kind of make them all the same, don't you? They're just a lot of elements in life that you can't, or won't, or don't know how to control. Three different problems, all mushed into one vague ball of wax.
Language matters. It really does. I could blame the internets for the watering down of it all, but obviously Orwell, and C.S. Lewis, and many other fine writers of past eras have commented on the same problems. I suppose we're all just more hopelessly aware of the situation now that everyone can fire off an electronic comment on any topic they choose, using tired and vague terminology and then backing it all up with the ubiquitous YMMV. That means "your mileage may vary," of course, and is virtually the same as saying "I've got issues with that, on so many levels. But it's okay if you don't agree with me in case you weren't clear on that!"
I was going to redress my "issues" with irony and the use of "ironic" in this essay as well, but I think it deserves a separate post.
x-posted to emily sears.