Friday, March 5, 2010

Oh-Oh! I Am Pissed! Don't Growl!

I am a linguist, and a protector of the language. I become annoyed at slang and bad grammar insinuating itself into proper vocabulary and usage, yet I admit that the trend is simply evolution. Still, I have my limits.

There was a time before speech developed in the human culture. Growls, grunts, and arm waving had to suffice for civil communication. A growl may have meant various things, each not pleasant, so the other person had to beware immediate danger, whereas a grunt may have been a sign of satisfaction. Arm waving may have been used as modifiers, somewhat physically analogous to adjectives. Then, speech was invented to avoid ambiguity, and to allow explicit expression of thought whether prosaic or poetic (I am being farcical on purpose).

So why subvert this wonderful instrument of conveying even the most subtle thought?

Here are some example scenarios of overt subversion:

“Oh-oh!” [Utterance by the controlling person with an expected subsequent query from the controlled person]

“What’s the problem?” [Requisite query from the controlled person as an expected response with sign of worry]

“I think I may have broken a nail.” [Information that could have been conveyed in the first place without wasting time on the first interchange or annoying the other person]

“Oh. I was worried for a second. Silly me. Next time please just say what the hell bothers you!” [Show of obvious annoyance at the interchange]
One of the most useless mannerisms of modern English speaking people is the spontaneous use of “Oh-oh”. It is uttered (growled) when one encounters an undesirable or imminently undesirable event or situation. Here are some examples.

He and she have just finished sex in their bedroom at home. He rolls over to his back and growls, “Oh-oh.” She thinks he is having some medical emergency, soiled the bed sheet, or maybe it is something bad that she had done. He uttered the growl because he smelled something unpleasant that turns out to be a gift left by their puppy-in-training.

She and he are on the road in a car heading for an appointment. She drives through an intersection when she growls, “Oh-oh”. He thinks that she is having a medical problem or car trouble, and is immediately in high adrenaline mode. It turns out that she ran a stop sign, and the police are pulling her over.

He and she are having a pleasant conversation over dinner at a nice restaurant when he growls, “Oh-oh.” Thoughts run through her mind imagining all kinds of bad things taking place. He growled because he spotted an old girlfriend being seated at an adjacent table.

She and he are walking back to their car after dinner. The parking lot is dark and creepy. She growls, “Oh-oh.” He does not know whether to wet his pants or get his gun out of his concealed holster. The reason she growled is that she just remembered leaving her expensive lipstick in the ladies’ room as she was touching up her lips before leaving.

What would you say is common in these examples aside from their insipidity?

What is common is the obfuscation of the intent to convey the very information that is still to be conveyed. The reason for the “Oh-oh” utterance in each case is prompted by the situation. The execution of the utterance in each case is unnecessary, unproductive, time wasting, annoying, irritating etc. So why do it?

Why indeed? It conveys no information other than some source of worry from the one who does the growl, which in turn causes more worry in the other person’s mind. The information that should have been conveyed in the first place still needs to be done. Now the other person either waits for it, or asks about it. If he has to act on the situation, it is now some seconds later which could be significant in the success or failure of his response. I remember the scene from Mad Max when the creepy little girls says, "Oh-oh, we're dead meat!" Obiously that required a question and then a subsequent answer. Useless.

This is one of those social habits that would be best deleted, for it has no purpose unless one wants to irritate the person who would hear the utterance.

If I succumb to being verbally baited, the other person is controlling me, as in the contrived introductory scenario. As I age I have learned to avoid being baited under any circumstance. The result is that I ignore any utterance of "Oh-oh". A sensible way to see that introductory scenario is as follows:

“I think I may have broken a nail.” [Information conveyed by a non-controlling person, not necessarily requiring a response]

“Sorry dear, I would love to repair if for you.” [Offer supplied in response by a caring person]
I know that the scenarios I have presented are contrived, but they are based on reality. You could substitute your own experience to demonstrate the uselessness of this growl especially when used in dire situations where every second is significant.

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