Verbing weirds language. This brilliant comment from the equally brilliant comic strip Calvin and Hobbes is a reference to the current proverbial bug in my ass, which has to do with the devolution of the language we call English.
I once had a very good friend named Robert who was also my political opponent. Robert was a very left-wing-leaning intellectual. I don’t think of myself as intellectual at all, and I’m left-wing averse—but I really liked the conversations we had over multiple glasses of single malt scotch, back when I had money and single malt was still affordable.
He would extol the virtues of the Marxist collective compassion so popular with hippies. He argued passionately about the tyranny of the glass ceiling. He tried to no avail to convince me that the world is an unjust place in which victims are the majority and tyrants who determine outcomes for them are in the minority.
Now here’s the thing. If you think the federal government is an appropriate agent of assistance for the poor, I disagree, but you’re entitled to that viewpoint. Poverty is a very real problem and the feds have a lot of resources; a lot of our resources some of which belong to me, but that doesn’t qualify them to tackle something as complicated as poverty. Take a bath you Occupy Wall Street dorks.
If you think that, as a woman, you are held back in the workplace by the misogynistic attitudes of men in charge, maybe you are; men can be pigs, but maybe you ought not to work at places with people like that.
Also, Robert descended from Scottish royalty and was a child of privilege. I, on the other hand, am the offspring of common folk whose ancestors carved a scant living out of the Oklahoma Land Rush and interbred with Indians—I mean Native Americans. We did OK with our meager resources; what’s everyone else’s excuse?
Even so, I was very fond of Robert and the reasoned discussions we so often had—but as you can imagine our disagreement didn’t end with political philosophy. Robert’s honest, intellectual left-wing approach to life compared to my own pedestrian right-leaning approach also led us to different ideas about work related fare. We were both tech writers at the time documenting cutting edge software in the information technology industry and, like our politics, our individual views of the English language were also diametrically opposed. I thought of myself as a guardian of the language and he believed in its active evolution.
He actually thought it was a good idea to invent new words. As a writer I was appalled. My favorite example is the word functionality. It was 1993 when I heard this word for the first time. I was at the office where the two of us worked one afternoon and our IT guy, Steve, was trying to assist me with getting network access. He was mumbling something under his breath about my operating system and how it was interacting with our product suite and how it was falsely signaling a security breach.
“Oh I see the problem.”
“You have the latest version of the product, which has some new security functionality.”
I find it ironic that technologists invented this word because they tend to be very exacting about everything except the way they sometimes abuse the language. Functionality, which is now in common usage among software engineers, is typically used to refer to a new feature in a product—but guess what? We already have a word for that: the word is feature.
So indulge me while I explain the evolution of this word; I think it’s illustrative of a point that’s critical to this entry. First, you take something called a noun that is used to refer to the way something works: function. Then you add a syllable to turn it into an adjective to describe whether it works: functional. Finally, you add two more syllables to turn it back into a noun to refer to some aspect of the way it works: functionality, because the word feature is so much more cumbersome. Holy Christ. Thanks for letting me get that out of my system.
This brings me a little closer to the point. A few years ago, two additional terms made it into the common lexicon, which I find as appalling as the aforementioned “F” word: bromance and man date. These two terms even have a Wikipedia entry which explains that the term bromance first appeared in a skateboard magazine in the 90’s. Figures. It’s supposed to characterize a close friendship between two heterosexual men.
It could be argued that in that sense Robert and I had a bromance and that our political discussions constituted man dates. Notice that I phrased that as “it could be argued.” That’s because I think those two terms are stupid. Robert and I did enjoy a close friendship—and that’s how we referred to it. Why invent yet another word to describe something that already has a perfectly good descriptor?
But here’s why it’s on my mind. For Christmas, Heidi purchased a couple of DVDs for me, one of which was the film I Love You Man. When I opened the package Heidi said “It’s about the camaraderie of male friendships.” OK that’s cool. I like the feeling when I’m around other guys and we talk about music, or guns, or how much we hate politicians. Fun. Still my spidey sense was signaling danger, and it’s seldom wrong.
When we retired to the bedroom Heidi put in the flick and we began to watch the wretched story unfold. The premise: the main character, Peter, has no male friends and is engaged to be married. He has no best man and he overhears his fiancée talking to her girlfriends about how guys who don’t have male friends are clingy and needy.
Wait. Did you breeze by that? His character has no male friends. What guy doesn’t have a single male friend? Do you have a next door neighbor? Have you ever been to college? Did you ever have a job? What the Hell? But OK. We’re only 10 minutes into it.
Next, we cut to dinner with his family. The topic arises, and his father claims to have had only two male friends in his entire life: one with whom he’s out of touch and Peter’s younger brother. And why are Peter’s Father and brother best friends? Because his youngest son is gay. WTF? Notice he’s not merely accepting of his son’s sexual orientation and loves him because he is his son. He loves him because he’s gay. Sorry, but that pegs the creep-o-meter for me.
Aptly named Peter then convinces his gay brother to help him learn how to pick up guys for the purpose of platonic friendship—mostly at the gym. At this point the discomfort in the room is palpable, but it gets worse. He begins going on blind man dates and of course nobody is suitable. And now the final straw. One of the dates takes a horrible turn: everything seems to be going well with the latest candidate, and the predictable happens. At the end of the date, the other guy goes in for the kiss.
So does Peter deck him? No he stands there looking at the other dude, who after the film portrays the most awkward moment in cinematic history, leans in for sloppy seconds. Honestly, I’m not sure whether Peter was acting like a girl or a man who’s not certain of his sexual orientation.
Look. If you’re gay, fine; be gay. If you’re straight, cool; be straight. But what is this crap about being straight and acting gay?
Thing one: Depending on your source and the way you define vocabulary elements, the English language comprises anywhere from 250,000 to 1,000,000 words, a language richer than any other on the planet. Please stop screwing with it.
Thing two: Being gay is nothing to be ashamed of, but neither is being straight. Just go with who you are and stop pretending we’re all the same. We’re not, and when you cross the line it comes off really weak and it kind of pisses me off.