Our generation’s lapses in language

Do more than react in conversation

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Our generation’s lapses in language

Hamza Butt/ Flickr

Hamza Butt/ Flickr

Hamza Butt/ Flickr

By Isaac Simon, Collegian Columnist

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I was recently privy to a conversation during class and heard a comment that seemed both normal and concerning at the same time: When something was said, a student responded by saying, “retweet.” No one seemed surprised and it was a comment I had heard before, yet it still sounded odd for some very important reasons.

It is not my job to police the language of others. This probably explains why I didn’t remark on her comment, showing the disapproval that I felt her response deserved. However, there is something to be said for the overall “dumbing down” of language with respect to campus culture in general. This is not about being right or wrong, but about taking language within a fixed medium and applying it to a different environment — one where it might not belong.

It goes without saying that the point made in class was not made on Twitter, where the actual act of retweeting it would be a possibility. The student who said “retweet” appears to have said it for two reasons: First, she was suggesting that if the comment appeared on her Twitter feed, it would be worth retweeting. Second, uttering the word “retweet” absolves her from advancing the conversation in any meaningful way. Instead of explaining the part that was worth “retweeting,” she just said the word “retweet.” Such a comment is virtually akin to saying “Word” in response to someone or something — it doesn’t add anything. And while I am guilty of saying it all the time, it reaffirms the sometimes troubling effect that culture has on language.

I assume most people don’t think this is a problem, either because they like the effect of culture on language, or because they’re apathetic to it. But if you subscribe to the opinion that incorporating such words and phrases into conversational vocabulary is healthy, I would beg to differ. Apple’s iOS 10 software gave users the capability to hold down iMessages and comment on them. Apple presented individuals with six different options for expressing their emotions about a different message: heart, thumbs up, thumbs down, haha, exclamation point and question mark. (Personally, I love the question mark, because I am curious as to what all these other options mean. But does using that feature make me complicit in the ways technology helps to contaminate our culture, or does it enhance the way I choose to challenge the system?) Again, these features are creative in so far as they give consumers choices about how to respond to something. But I’m not sure the feature enhances the way in which we engage with others. In fact, it has become rather apparent to me that such engagement is actually detrimental to engagement. Applying social media to normal conversation is representative of our inability to properly articulate our own thoughts. Why bother explaining something if the opinion can already be summed up in a slogan?

This is not the first time I have heard a phrase like this used in conversation, and while there is no malicious intent behind it, such language is still problematic. We have all heard the famous phrase, “Actions speak louder than words,” while often forgetting that words themselves are a form of action. If this is the case, then it seems that using this type of language does nothing to enhance the quality of the conversation — a clear example of inaction. Instead of being responsible for outlining your reasoning, you might as well conform to a specific character limit.

Of all the ways that someone could impact how they are perceived by others, the words they say should top that list. Perhaps the evil of it all is that an opinion such as this would be more widely accessible when trafficked through social media. Feel free to retweet at your own risk.

Isaac Simon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]