Alas, Again?


Many moons ago, I said the quiet part out loud, which I do sometimes. Posting to a Facebook group of people who appeared to have some affection for words and word use, having just read a dumb article by some writer who used the word, I mentioned that I didn’t take people seriously who used “alas” in their writing.

This was a shortcut, for me, something that would make my eyebrow lift a little and put me on alert for other bad words. If I run across alas in something written by someone I admire, whose writing is fun and accessible and brilliant, of course not. C’mon. Not even going to notice.

It’s true, though. It’s a warning to me that pretentiousness may be on the horizon. And as with most of these things, it’s really just a warning to me. I teeter on pretentiousness all the time.

But really? Just a joke. An observation of the weird ways I try to organize my opinions to save time.

I understand how you can form a different, wrong opinion. I do love words, and I have my pet peeves and other personal tics, but I mostly love the language and embrace the flexibility and innovations of English. I don’t get hung up on errors, because that’s also the nature of English; we tend to say wrong words until they become the right ones.

The classic example, which William Safire codified in an article I’ve never forgotten, is I could care less, of course. I’ve read speculation that this is an over-correction on our parts—it feels grammatically correct to express this in the incorrect way, the illogical way (probably because of a sneaking suspicion, a wrong suspicion, that we’re using a double negative). Safire suggested that this phrase has become so common as to become unofficially acceptable, having a functional meaning exactly opposite of the literal one.

I was charmed by his explanation, so. It informs a lot of this. English mutates, and we mutate along with it.

So my underwear remains unbunched, most of the time. I never pay attention to your vs. you’re on social media because sheesh. I mistype homophones all the time (all the time). Moving on.

If you use lay in a sentence instead of lie, and the latter is correct, I won’t notice unless I’m editing it. It seems most of the English-speaking world misuses the word jealous (or “jelly,” cute), meaning envious instead (you’re jealous if someone flirts with your spouse; you envy their vacations). This is so common that I think one can argue the meaning has changed, which happens all the time. I could not care less.

I’m not a grammar Nazi, or a grammar fascist, or a grammar scold. I enjoy the people who are, sometimes, because they can be funny, but I barely notice. As I said, I enjoy language, warts and all. You guys have fun.

But. Unlike alas, I have a real thing to fuss about. And again, it’s personal, something I watch out for in my own usage and rarely notice with others unless it’s prominent or, I guess, I’m in a mood.

I resist using psychiatric and/or neurologic terms casually. If there’s an egregious example (or the mood thing), I might get irritated if others do, depends. But it’s important to me.

Some inspire casual use. They’re useful. I can say I’m depressed and you’ll understand if I mean situational depression (just watched a gloomy movie, or heard some bad news) or a pathology. Most of us appreciate the distinction by now. As well, sometimes (rarely) I get a little excited, and I might say manic. You know I don’t need medication.

Obsession and compulsion, and their forms, are where I draw the line. I try to avoid them, particularly obsession. And, having a child diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, I can get a little irritated with the nonchalant usage. I get your point, with the way you like to stack your loose change or arrange the throw pillows on your sofa just so. It’s not OCD, because you know what? You’re not freaking Howard Hughes. You’re neat, maybe fussy.

Just a little annoyance, because my son is 30 and I still walk around my house, every day, opening doors he compulsively closes, even though he knows he shouldn’t. If I walk into the house after being out of town, every bedroom and bathroom door is closed tight (and the medicine cabinet doors are wide open, because they have mirrors). I recognize a disorder because I live with it, as minor and easy as it is.

You’d never say, I’m a little autistic or I have a little cerebral palsy. You wouldn’t.

I’d never call someone on it, honestly. This is all about me. I’ve just found that I can’t use the word obsessed without feeling a little guilty, and I almost never do.

It’s frustrating, because I’m a human being. I can get obsessed with stuff, about stuff, regarding stuff. I can get obsessed with prepositions, for one thing. You know what I mean, that I’m not talking about a psychiatric condition, just a focus. It’s acceptable usage.

I’m just bound by personal correctness, because I have personal experience. I’m never offended when someone else uses it casually, although occasionally I’ll bump on it. Mostly I just avoid it, and stick with captivated. Preoccupied. Engrossed. Infatuated.

Or obsessed. Your call.

I’m serious, people.

I’m serious, people.

Chuck Sigars3 Comments