Some things are just better left unsaid

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 27, 2012

WASHINGTON — ‘Tis the season when columnists write mea culpas, make predictions and list their resolutions.
Since my culpas are too vast for this tiny space, my predictions best in retrospect and my resolutions inevitably ignored, I thought I’d list a few resolutions for the rest of the world. These, too, are likely to be ignored, but I’ll feel better getting a few things off my chest.
Herewith, what annoys me most:
• Hot.
Can we please shelve this awful word as used by adults to refer to others? What happened to “attractive” or “fascinating”? If you’re 18 or younger, I suppose one can be forgiven for recognizing a person of interest in terms of hotness, but nothing is less attractive than adult men and women appraising others as “hot” (or not) at a certain age, which should be about the time one is old enough to vote.
Hotness, as I understand it, essentially refers to another’s worthiness to bed. This is not, in the world I prefer to live in, subject matter for dinner conversation.
In a related matter, let’s not …
• Man up.
How many times during recent elections have we heard candidates refer to others’ need to “man up”? This was especially jarring when women used the term to refer to their male opponents, as when Nevada Republican Sharron Angle told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to man up during a debate.
Sarah Palin, who wasn’t running for anything, nevertheless questioned President Obama’s manhood, saying that Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, thanks to her tough immigration bill, “has the cojones that our president does not have.” Classy.
In an ad, Colorado Republican Jane Norton said her primary opponent for the U.S. Senate, Ken Buck, should be “man enough” to do his own campaign dirty work.
And so on.
What comparable insult might men bestow on women? “Woman up” has no parallel meaning, but one can imagine that challenging a woman’s “womanhood,” whatever that might mean (fertility? femininity?), would not go over well.
Buck did manage to produce a weak rejoinder, urging voters to choose him because “I don’t wear high heels.”
OK, well, this is cutting right to the core of voter concerns. A manly Buck versus a stiletto-ed femme. It is little wonder that Coloradoans decided to legalize pot. How else to get through such mind-boggling debate? Whatever voters had in mind when they elected Buck, they can’t have felt elevated by their choices.
And little wonder young Americans end all their sentences with …
• Question marks. No list would be complete without mention of the annoying habit of the young to state declarative sentences as queries. Though not new, this tic has become so commonplace that one worries it may have become permanently entrenched in the language.
Simple grammar: A declarative statement ends with a period. The voice does not rise as with a question, punctuated with a question mark. Yet several times a day, a young person speaks to me in question marks.
“So, I ran into Jeff? And he was, like, wow, you cut your hair? And I was, like, I know, right?”
The only alternative to the persistent query is the occasional exclamation: “OMG. He is so hot!”
I have no idea what the statement-question reveals, but it seems to be connected to some desire to not be judgmental. And this seems to be tied to the generational proclivity to perceive all things as relative. As in, I am so totally not, like, committed to anything that could possibly be construed as slightly offensive to anyone anywhere that I will say even obviously true things so as to indicate my willingness to be persuaded, like, otherwise?
• No problem.
Which is, I promise, my last nit. “No problem” seems now to be the customary reply to “thank you.” As opposed to the previously accepted “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure.”
“Thanks so much for the excellent service,” I say to the waiter. “No problem,” he says.
What does this mean? That it wasn’t all that much trouble? Or, that service is a problem to be solved?
Doing something for someone in the line of duty or out of the goodness of one’s heart is not a problem solved. It is a gift, a gesture, a sentiment. And when someone expresses gratitude for that gesture, it is customary to acknowledge that you were happy to extend the pleasure, not that it wasn’t too bad for you.
Which is to say, you’re welcome.