Seeing that few have picked up the language gauntlet that remains on the ground since William Safire’s death in 2009, I’ve attempted to raise and throw it down a few times principally focusing on filler phrases. Most of these are harmless of course, and it may only be a relative handful of us who take note of this.
My favorite remains “Oh … My … God”, and its many variants and cadences, which has real staying power – slowly having penetrated into the male vernacular after being a predominantly female flamboyance. The runner-up, which shows no signs of lessening, is “Thank You So Much”, which of course makes one sound like an ingrate if you merely say “thank you”.
Here is a relatively new linguistic meme making the rounds. It is only one word, and it’s totally pointless if not meaningless: “whatever”. I’ll be the first to grant you that my noticing this falls under the category of “is that all you have to think about” (Miriam’s grandmother used to say this when I pointed out linguistic patterns or foibles during down time in the hotel lobby). I’m not looking for these things — they seem to find me, and I really do manage to keep most of these observations to myself. They’re the linguistic analog of the heavy footsteps of your neighbor upstairs, who has no clue how annoying the pounding is from the uncarpeted floor above. Just tune it out, I’m told. It’s part of apartment living when you’re not on the top floor. But today is your lucky day, and I’m going to turn you on to whatever.
Here’s an example from an otherwise well-written book by Yoram Bogacz, author of Genesis and Genes (p.39): “Whenever we make a forecast we extrapolate. We take a limited data set, and extend it to the future or the past or whatever.”
“Whatever” isn’t likely to become as ubiquitous a crutch as Oh-My-God! or Thank You So Much, but listen for it my children, and you shall hear the vacuous whatever in your ear. It is considerably better than the perennial air-fllers of “um”, or “you know”, or “like”. I should emphasize that I’m not referring to the dismissive use of whatever, which falls under the category of being truncatingly flippant. That I almost understand (yeh, sure – if you say so). What grabs me is how some intelligent people who should know better repeatedly use it as a crutch word.
A quick perusal of the Internet, and you’ll find that I’m not the first one to make this point. I was surprised to learn that whatever took top honors as most the most annoying filler in a 2009 Marist Poll. In 2012 it was recognized as part of a growing epidemic of crutch words. Yet it persists, whatever.