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Saturday, December 21, 2013

SUDDENLY UNCOOL: WHATEVER

robert mangold

Another day of good weather, sunshine, temperature almost 60, donkeys and calves lolling in the sunlight. This time of year, I cherish every day and night when the floor is not freezing all the way to my knees. Actually, I don't mind, but it is kind of debilitating. Strong need to sit in a chair with a footstool where I read and watch movies, but don't want to do that all the time. Also good time to take naps, get feet up off the floor. It's a good time to stay in bed when the floor is really cold. A day like today, sunny and warm, makes me want to sleep. My productive mind, the mind that cares, reminds of things that need picked up and taken to the dump, a good day for it. Suddenly, I'm overtaken by weariness, need for a nap, didn't get enough sleep the night before. I stumble to the bed, step out of shoes, cover up and fall off into sleep with Caterpillar curled up in her cat bed close by. As I knew I would, I woke just before dark. It's still a nice day. It's not cold. Dark outside, or light, it's the same to me, unless I want to drive someplace and need lights. I carry a one-battery flashlight in a pocket. It's the size of a pocket knife. With dark happening at 5:30 now, a flashlight is the key to getting around. I may leave the house at ten in the morning for the grocery store and drug store, but it doesn't necessarily mean I'll be home by 5:30. It turns out that keeping a flashlight in pocket is every bit as handy as keeping a pocket knife. You don't know it's handy until you have one. Then you use it almost every day. I use the pocketknife so little for cutting, I keep it less than razor sharp to avoid cutting myself. Any of the men in my world would be shocked to feel how dull I keep my knife. They'd offer to sharpen it. I'd decline, they'd shrug a shoulder.

robert mangold
 
The news of the day is that the word determined most annoying of 2013 was whatever. Of course, it acquired comments suggesting twerk, hashtag and others like that. Of the list of possibilities, whatever is the only one that has become a slang term, like cool, overused unconsciously everywhere after 20 or more years of use. It is like a phrase we used in the Navy, You'll get over it. It has the same frustrating annoyance as whatever. It is annoying, to be sure, a nice way of saying, kiss my ass. Everybody knows that the first time they hear it. There comes a time a quarter century later when its overuse becomes annoying. In 1956 a song went to number one immediately, Transfusion, by Nervous Norvus, a novelty song that was funny and told a good story. It was number one for almost a year. At first, the radio stations had the phones ringing all the time with requests for Transfusion. Everybody learned all the words, bought the 45, listened to it over and over. Then the time came when people started calling the ratio stations telling them to stop playing the song. It went away as fast as it came on. Nobody ever wanted to hear it again. Brings to mind another song that was number one almost a year, Bill Doggett's Honky Tonk, soulful tenor sax with a dance band, and there was Ray Charles singing What'd I Say. Elvis, Hound Dog. Dynamic song in its moment. A good one for dance clubs, too. The Rolling Stones, Satisfaction. The Jerk, the Twist, the Peppermint Twist, Oo Poo Pah Doo, the Watusi, what Patti Smith later called The Land of a Thousand Dances. Move around the floor in a loco-motion. Jump up, jump back. Whatever.
 
robert mangold
 
I'm not going to argue with somebody from USA Today or People Magazine pronouncing authority on annoying words of the year. My guess is that whoever made the list grew up with a mother who over-used whatever. I won't stop using it, because it is so right. Like in the Navy, You'll get over it. Somebody starts griping. You'll get over it. It's such a frustration to hear, partly because it's the last word. You will get over it, and you know it, but for now you want to be mad and some yoyo says, You'll get over it. It's a similar feeling that goes with What-evuh. Sometimes it's the right thing to say. My friend Carole has a sweatshirt with whatever written across the front. She's had it probably fifteen years. I don't believe whatever will go away any time soon. It is so flexible it can be made to apply to different tones of voice, irony. And I will go on using it because it's a brief, one word version of You'll get over it. From five syllables to three. Economy of language. An entire nation of coffee shops cannot make me honor politically correct speak, so one writer for a paper calls it annoying. Big deal. It is. That's the point. It's not going away any time soon. So what if it does. About the time I was getting out of high school, "Somethin else" came on at first black slang. It caught on among white kids and spread like wildfire. Then it drifted away, though it continues as understood, acceptable speech unto today. Whatever is too convenient an expression to suddenly be over because somebody thought it annoying. Somebody thought it was annoying twenty years ago. That's why it sticks around so long, because it is annoying. I don't get the sudden annoyance with a word that has been a slang term for a long time. Like saying cool is overused. Duh. Just to say it is redundant. So what.
 
robert mangold
 
This attention on the word whatever brings to mind what a conformist bunch of people Americans have become. We've always had it, but now, after half a century of manipulation through television, the conformity now is incredible to behold. Perhaps it appears more exaggerated the further I remove myself from that world of thinking about money. Talking with Joe at the coffee shop, we talked about whatever, how funny it is we're in a time where somebody declares a word uncool, others fall in line and it's the new banned word, can't say it anymore. Then we get the language underground where we talk any way we like around people who talk that way too. It's where I find my kind of people I like, colorful language and the people who use it. I don't mean all swear words for colorful. I actually find the less literate someone is, the more colorful their language is. When somebody apologizes to me for not having much education, I assure them the education level means nothing to me. In fact, I like people of little education for the way they talk that's not the way we're taught in English class, but the living way of speaking. It's this I loved about my old hillbilly friends who are in their graves now and have been for some time. Their language had music in it. Now we talk like we're taking a verbal grammar test. We are more specific in our language than the old people were. Our society is more detail oriented and so is our school system. Now we have a list of banned words we're expected to have memorized. They didn't have any banned words in the old days. Church used to be the only place where you couldn't say certain words. Now it is a nation full of coffee shops. It might be fun to make a painting of all the banned words I can think of.  
 
robert mangold
 
 
 
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