Sunday, November 18, 2012

Phrases

“We’re going to raise the roof.”

There is a television commercial airing right now that makes fun of that phrase. A Mom says it in response to celebrating a sale in a store, her kid tells her nobody says that anymore, someone else in the store shouts it and the Mom grins.

But what exactly does ‘raise the roof’ mean in that context? Something like ‘to have fun and make a lot of noise’ like maybe a loud celebration because this sale is going to be so good.

Here’s another one … “I’ll be there with bells on.” Upon hearing that, someone might ask “why would you wear bells?” The origin of that phrase goes back to the pre-auto days and has something to do with arriving at a festive event in your horse-drawn carriage with bells on the harnesses of the horses.

Words and phrases take on different meanings over time and people of various generations who don’t catch the change might have difficulty communication with each other. Remember in the 1980s when the word ‘bad’ starting to actually mean ‘good’? A more recent one is ‘ridiculous’ which means something more like ‘incredible’ or ‘awesome’ … and apparently ‘awesome’ is not so popular any more. I frequently use that word with a 41-year-old friend and it flows naturally in our conversation. When I use it with another friend who is 55 years old, she laughs at me. Really? Seriously? (And there are two more with changing meanings, depending on emphasis).

Media people often use annoying or meaningless phrases. I’m a media person and am probably guilty of it at times myself. The one I truly hate is ‘in its entirety’. Nobody talks that way, except old DJs and some people who write commercials. I first heard (and said) that silly phrase on rock stations in the late 1970s … “hear the album in its entirety at midnight.” It should be “hear the whole album at midnight.” Album is another tricky one. It commonly referred to vinyl records … oops, there’s another one: ‘records.’ When cassettes took over from vinyl the term album remained; same with CDs. Downloads have caught up with CDs, so what do you call this stuff now? Artists seem to still use the term album or record. By the way, the original use of the word ‘album’ in the context of vinyl music recordings referred to something that looked like a photo album with pages full of photos, but the ‘album’ had sleeves that contained records. The records at that time only had one song on each side of the disc. I know this because my Dad had some from the 1940s.

Another one that bothers me is “stay with us.” Television news anchors often say things like this before a commercial break, “Coming up: sports, the weather and our consumer reporter; stay with us.” I used to do that as a DJ too … “Coming up, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and the latest from Toby Keith; stay with us.” Geez. Wasted words. Oh, and the latest what from Toby Keith? … album? CD? Record? Track? Release? During my last years as a full time DJ one of my verbal crutches was “right around the corner” referring to something coming up in a few minutes; dated, imprecise, annoying.

Language evolves and we must evolve with it. Otherwise thy reputation as an old fart will stay with thee. And communication can become an awkward challenge. As recently as the 1960s, for example, the word ‘gay’ meant fun (ever heard that line in the Flintstones theme song … ‘we’ll have a gay old time’?). Now ‘gay’ refers to homosexuals. Awkward if you get it wrong.

Here are a few I still hear sometimes, although I don’t really know how they got started: ‘no shit Sherlock’, ‘Jesus H Christ’, ‘don’t be a stick in the mud’, ‘spiffy’, ‘belt it out’.

Okey dokey, that’s all I got for today. Gotta run. Later gator. Bet you thought I’d have a clever ending to this, didn’t you? Psyche! Thanks for visiting. You rock!


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