Monday, January 25, 2016

Meaningless speech?

Ur-Spo mentioned that he could do without -- among other things -- the expression "No problem!"

Two things struck me about that. One was that when I first came to Wisconsin back in the mid-1980s, I noticed that young people, when thanked, often responded not with "You're welcome" but with "No problem." This may be more widespread than I realized, and after all these years, if people are saying it in that context, I hardly notice any more.


The other thing that struck me was that there are expressions that convey mere social contact and not information, many as part of greeting or farewelling. "How are you?" notoriously does NOT mean that the person asking wants a detailed analysis of your status. Nor does the response, "I'm fine" mean that there are no issues confronting you or keeping you awake at night. This exchange is normally no more than an exchange of recognition.

When I was studying Kiswahili in preparation for a transfer to Kenya that never happened, I remember that in that language/culture, greetings were quite extended, often involving questions not only about the person greeted but about various members of the family. (In Texas we asked, "How's the cows? How's your mama and them?") I was taught that this introductory part of a conversation was essential for courtesy, indicating that you had lots of time to devote to the person and so on. Only after you asked how everyone in the family was -- and been told that they were all fine -- would you go on to discover that the brother who was "fine" had just broken his leg and that the mother who was "fine" was in hospital.

When I ask my mother how she is, she usually says she is "Okay." 

The reason for that, as she has frequently explained to me, is that Jesus says only one is good and that one is God (Mark 10:18), and so she is unwilling to say she is good. 

At any rate, we all know pretty much what these exchanges mean, even if it is not literally what is said.

On the other hand, political speech which is supposed to convey important information often sounds pretty meaningless or else sounds like it is code for something other than what it appears to say. But I won't go into that.

I imagine my rambling on that topic is something you can do without.

4 comments:

Bob Slatten said...

I also don't care for "No problem" as a response, but the phrase that bothers me the most is "It is what it is."

That doesn't even mean anything.

Michael Dodd said...

Bob,
Null content? Is that the phrase I am looking for?
I actually started to write a rant on something that I hear a lot and that drives me bananas: "Everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be in God's world."
Really? The Holocaust? 9/11? Pedophilia? Domestic abuse? Slavery? A candidate for President who boasts he could gun someone down in the street and not lose a vote?

John Gray said...

Ramble away!

Bob Slatten said...

Michael,
I'd love to see that rant!