In my youth, (not so much now) my parents were very strict about my usage of vernacular – yeah, slang. I would be rebuffed in mid-speech and criticized for expressions such as “Ya know,” “I was pissed off,” and “It was the pitts.” (OMG – such offensive stuff!) Not only was there critique of improper grammar, but the expectation of a broadening vocabulary forever loomed. So, I had two dialects: “at home” and “in the street.” But fortunately, my parents imbued me with the same enthusiasm and appreciation for properly executed language as they had.
“A rose by any other name . . .” Creating a standardized name encourages universal interpretation, assuming the basic identifiers remain constant. The word rose, used consistently in English and French, means the flower or perhaps a pinkish hue in the red color family. Having an extensive vocabulary allows the speaker/writer to further define information via nuance – subtlely articulating just which ‘shade of gray’ they are referring to; in the same way a composer creates variations on an original musical theme by a mere tweaking of notes or accents.
It is important to make the right word choices in order to dynamically and accurately convey whatever it is you might be describing. As we age, our memories seem to freeze more and more often (senior moments) and we are dependent on others, at times, to provide the elusive word or phrase we were going for. When a listener successfully fills in our blanks, the reward is in the accomplished mutual comprehension. Having inherited my parents’ ear for exactness in spoken English, I confess to a pet peeve with people who arrogantly show complete disregard for our established language (excluding trendy slang) and reassign their own words and phrases indiscriminately. When challenged on their intent, they impatiently say “Whatever . . . You know what I mean.” Well, the fact is . . . I don’t. And I don’t have the patience to interpret your lazy, indulgent, inflated, misuse of vocabulary. Let me give you some examples of comments I have encountered.
When Mr. and Mrs. Joe Blow show up at a restaurant or party with another couple or two, they are “a group of friends.” When men or women (in excess of 3 or more) whether aged 16 or 60, go to a party, club, dance or restaurant, they are “a group of friends”; but when P. Diddy shows up at an event with his “posse” – selected women, bodyguards, drivers and assorted assistants, he is with his entourage. The word entourage, synonomous with retinue, refers to the attendants surrounding a high ranking, possibly titled official, but more currently, a “celebrity” – music, sports, fashion, etc. Too often I hear someone inappropriately giving unearned status to anyone, simply because he/she is in a group of two or more persons. If I were to offer the offender the above definition of the word entourage, I would be told “Oh, you know what I mean.”
Calling someone infamous when you mean famous can be pretty insulting. Unknowingly, a misinformed speaker might say: “He/she is more infamous than ever now because his/her house was just robbed for the third time in a year.” This unfortunate homeowner, a three-time victim of household theft, has become a familiar figure in his local community (plenty of press coverage) because of it. He is neither famous nor infamous. Famous is a positive word, reflecting well earned accomplishment or achievement; whereas infamous connotes negative actions: The infamous John Doe, well known for repeatedly cheating on his wife, was caught again with a pretty young woman in the parking lot. Just try telling someone they don’t mean infamous, but rather famous, and you’ll be told, “Yeah, whatever.”
Let’s say you’ve had a nagging cough for over a month; quite disruptive to your life and disquieting to everyone else afraid of catching “whatever” you’ve got. I say to you, “What have you done for that cough? Have you tried A, B and C?” You say to me, “I’ve done everything. What do you think, I’m just sitting around on my laurels?” No, I don’t think that at all, because it’s obvious you have no idea what laurels are nor how to use the expression properly.
Sitting (or resting) on one’s laurels: Relying on one’s past recognized successes to be adequate; doing nothing more to maintain and/or refresh an achievement or complete a new one, thereby keeping a reputation/title current and fresh.
Sitting on one’s laurels is often confused with and substituted for sitting on your ass. “Why don’t you do something instead of sitting on your ass.” – A crass way of telling someone they are ineffective and non-productive. Both expressions have negative associations with laziness and lack of effort; yet they should never be used interchangeably. But, just try and tell the mis-user of either term their respective purpose and you’ll undoubtedly hear, “Oh yeah, whatever . . . you know what I mean.”