She was about 14 or 15 years old and very,very good at it. With her head cocked to the side, she listened to my suggestion that certain behavior was inappropriate. When I stopped, she stared into my eyes for about 5 seconds, glanced down at my shoes and up again and then put all the scorn and disdain she felt for me and my speech into one word. “Whatever.”
I have learned since then that I am not alone in my complete disgust of that word, when used in such a dismissive way. It is not only exceedingly rude but it very effectively shuts down all communication and indicates to the person to whom it was said that they do not matter. It ranks right up there with “talk to the hand.” (Forgive me if you use either one of these regularly)
There are many words and phrases used every day that are either weapons, inanities or just plain silly. Paul Yeager, in his book Literally, The Best Language Book Ever: Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again, takes a “linguistic scalpel” to what he sees as some of the common communication woes. With scathing humor and wit, he does for language what Miss Manners has done for etiquette. Lynn Truss combines the two in Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. Joining them are Junk English and What’s the Good Word. If you want to see where the English language is heading, check out The Prodigal Tongue: dispatches from the future of English.
The abuse of the English language, I must confess, is a pet peeve of mine and like so many people with pet peeves, I am frequently guilty of doing what I hate. Please feel free to call me on it if I’m caught saying “whatever!” I’m not fond of made up words either, because I like to be able to look for definitions in Webster’s. Where can you find a definition of “asparagusion?” (By the way, the grammar issue is in the same vein. I’m ill-equipped to take that on but for a fun take on the subject, look at Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies.) In the meantime, I’d like to hear from fellow linguistic “purists” concerning what you find really annoying. It’s lonely being ridiculously picky all by myself.