19 October 2009

Another Grouse ...

... about linguistic "fillers". I have just walked through central Oxford with a horrible and noisy gaggle of screeching little girls just behind me carrying on about how few "boys" of their "year" were "good-looking" and with the filler "like" several times in each sentence - even the horrendous construction "he was like ..." for "he said ...". The noise suddenly abated as I passed Brasenose, so I suspect that is the college which needs seriously to revise its entrance procedures. There are times when I do feel I understand what drives men to homosexuality.

But girls are not the only culprits. In last week's radio programme by Lord Bragg (a weekly seminar called "In our Time", for colonial readers), on the politics of the death of Elizabeth Tudor, one of three participating dons was a Cambridge professor whose name now eludes me. His filler was "y'know", and his filler-frequency was, if anything, greater than that of those women undergraduates at Brasenose. I think I understand this particular filler; it is often used by 'charismatic' teachers who affect a 'spontaneous' style of delivery in which everything is so breathlessly and elaborately intimate, informal and unpompous that few sentences are so tedious as to procede grammatically to a main verb because the speaker continually charges off down some exciting sideroad. This sort of academic is often surrounded by young and equally breathless female groupies, so perhaps there is a link with the Brasenose phenomenon.

Such linguistic usage can't be the prescriptive patois of allCambridge-educated Tudor historians, because Professor Tighe wouldn't use it if his life depended on it.

12 comments:

Christian said...

In defence of my generation, at least we do not endlessly repeat the word "super" (1960's) or the cringe worthy "radical" (1980's) and I think we have made fairly good headway in reducing use of the king of unnecessary nonsensical words "cool".

Col. Hugo Thrumpington-Mange said...

Christian, let's not forget the excessive use of "absolutely" and "let's be clear about this..."

Joshua said...

It puts me in mind of mathematics lectures, when "clearly" meant "ten or more lines of complicated algebra establishes"...

How about, in Church circles, "sisters and brothers", "story", "challenge" and other horrible expressions...

Malcolm Kemp said...

Not only in Oxford. A few days ago on a bus in Brighton (which like Oxford, now boasts two universities)I overheard some girls in conversation. Every other word was "like". At least there are less palatable four letter words but it does get very tiresome for a grumpy old *** like me.

Sue Sims said...

Count your blessings, Father. If they were using 'good-looking', at least they weren't talking about boys being 'hot' or 'fit'.

And yes, 'like' is the filler of choice for today's generation: English teachers in secondary education (such as I*) labour and toil, quite fruitlessly, to eradicate it from their speech. It helps if you think of it as the modern version of 'um' and 'er' - though I confess to getting really irritated at the constant "So she was like oh my god" (small 'g' intentional, as that's how they write it when they're compelled to put fingers to keyboard).

*See? I avoided 'like'!

Chris said...

In those parts of the Church where extemporised prayer is
de rigeur, it has its own set of fillers, leading me to conclude that, the speakers Protestant convictions notwithstanding, such prayers are often addressed through the Cornishman S. Just (And, Lord, we just want to...).

johnf said...

What about when woman 'A' addresses woman 'B' over the electric telephone when she intones the word 'Hiya' in musical tones which entail the 'Hi' as a high short note followed by a 'ya' in a falling cadence

Hi - yaaaa

This seems to have started in the 90's and is still prevalent.

By the way Father, in your last post you exhibited leanings toward feminism and in this post homosexuality. What's going on?

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

Frivolity.

DerJimbo said...

In case you don't know, the speech mannerisms you have described are collectively referred to as "valley speak," and originated (largely among teenage girls) in southern California, specifically the San Fernando valley (thus the name), in the 1980's. It is, sadly, one cultural artefact of that period that not only survives largely intact in the US, but has, as you observed, metastasized. For a parody, see:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFR9TNsByLk

johnf said...

All the new fads start in California, it seems.

By the time they propagate to the UK there's probably a counter-fad sprung up in the golden state.

Father Hunwicke, the mixture of erudition, good humour and frivolity makes it is a pleasure to take part in these conversations.

Col. Hugo Thrumpington-Mange said...

I am given to understand that "valley speak" has its origins in South Wales, not in California. The Rhondda being a particularly rich source of these fillers. E.g. "is it", as in "Down the pub is it?" (Is what "down the pub"?) Another filler is "buy-year", not forgetting the splatter of "never" which concludes each sentence.

Independent said...

Cambridge educated 19th century historians do not talk like that either!