“Incredulous as it may sound…”

was a hilarious line in Young Frankenstein.   Anyway, it was hilarious to members of the audience who recognized that the correct adjective in context was “incredible.”   Soon after the movie came out, though, I swear I noticed an uptick in the general misuse of “incredulous,” as though Mel Brooks had unwittingly (or, who knows, wittingly) fired a starter gun and we were all free to stop worrying about the distinction and screw up, and now the second meaning of “incredulous” in current dictionaries is apparently “incredible.”    Prescriptive grammarians will gnash their teeth, but that skirmish is over.  

I don’t want to waste time wailing about this.   There’s nothing to be done, and anyway we’re still free to use each adjective correctly, and I hope we do.    

Instead, I’d like to waste (a little)  time cataloguing the devolution of words and phrases, specifically as hastened by movies and TV.     Linguists are certainly right that language is a living thing, always in flux, but surely that flux becomes a torrent [extended metaphor, but this is just a blog] when the same word or phrase is broadcast to the millions.

If anybody’s already done this, I’d like to know about it.   Meanwhile, feel free to add to this very short list.

1.   “Deja vu all over again.”   Yogi Berra said this, and it was  funny  (like “incredulous”).   Then writers and entertainers took up the phrase and used it, mostly without citing Berra, but still (I think) with conscious irony.   These days, I’m pretty sure that most of the time when somebody says “It’s deja vu all over again,” they’re dead serious.   They probably don’t even know who Yogi Berra is.   If we take the passage literally, it’s essentially tautological.  

2. “It is what it is.”   Speaking of tautologies, I’m guessing that when this was first uttered, it wasn’t one.   In paraphrase it meant something like “It is limited in scope” or “We must accept it as it is.”   Actually, come to think of it, I’m not sure what the hell it meant to begin with, but now it’s, well, what it is.   A waste of space.

That’s all I’ve got this morning.   Please offer additions.   Maybe we can all get a grant.

3.   “Wah-lah.”   The first time I heard this, I thought it was deliberate and intentionally funny character work: the character didn’t know that  “Voila!”  begins with a V.   Or even that it’s French. Ha ha.     Now I’m pretty sure it’s the writers who don’t.   Please prove me wrong.

Consider the Ambivert

          When I was a child, people were divided into two groups: extroverts and introverts. Introverts were thought to have something wrong with them: we were assumed to be timid, insecure creatures afraid of the light, and it was a given that we all secretly wished to be extroverts.   To turn inward, to keep one’s own watchful counsel, was somehow to let down the social team. Of course, we weren’t team players in the first place, and the only light we avoided was the spotlight.   Sunlight and moonlight–especially moonlight–were just fine with us. Routinely rebuked for insufficient vivacity, sub-level enthusiasm, and being an all-around pill, I would lie awake nights plotting the overthrow of the extrovert majority, whose self-esteem, whose very existence depended entirely on us–the watchers, the listeners, the audience, however unwilling.

        Happily, rebuked children now abed don’t have to admit to either category.   According to Wikipedia, a third has arisen: the Ambivert.   The ambivert is not a free-ranging pervert but rather something in between an introvert and an extrovert. Wikipedia asks us to imagine a questionnaire consisting of ten statements with which five people–John, Maria, Marcus, Sarah, and David–must either agree or disagree:

 

John

Maria

Marcus

Sarah

David

I am the life of the party.

Agree

Agree

Agree

Disagree

Disagree

I enjoy being the center of attention.

Agree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

Disagree

I am skilled in handling social situations.

Agree

Agree

Agree

Disagree

Disagree

I like to be where the action is.

Agree

Agree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

I make new friends easily.

Agree

Agree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

I am quiet around strangers.

Disagree

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

Agree

I don’t like to draw attention to myself.

Disagree

Agree

Agree

Agree

Agree

I don’t like to party on the weekends.

Disagree

Disagree

Agree

Agree

Agree

I like to work independently.

Disagree

Agree

Disagree

Agree

Agree

I often enjoy spending time by myself.

Disagree

Disagree

Disagree

Agree

Agree

Score

100% Extravert

70% Extravert

50% Extravert
50% Introvert
(Ambivert)

70% Introvert

100% Introvert

        John and Maria are extroverts. Sarah and David are introverts. (This is according to Wikipedia. I contend that no true introvert, such as David, would agree to agree or disagree with any of these statements, or any statements in general.   It’s none of your damn business.) Marcus is an ambivert.

        He yearns for the spotlight, and why not? Marcus is a whiz at social situations–in truth, he’s the life of any party, just as long as it’s not held on a Friday or Saturday night. Weeknight affairs might attract more people than you’d expect.   Of course, there’d be the usual extroverts, so afraid to be alone that they’ll go anywhere, even some lame Tuesday potluck thing larded with introverts like Sarah and David.   John, a 100% career blowhard, may begin to wonder who the hell this Marcus guy is and why he keeps popping up at odd hours to vie for the center of attention, but he probably won’t notice that Marcus never shows up on weekends, since he’s too busy back-slapping, bloviating, and charging about with the twenty-first century equivalent of a lampshade on his head.   I don’t know what the equivalent is, because I’m an introvert.

        Still there’s more to Marcus than meets the eye.   For instance, he hates to be “where the action is.”   Assuming that the action is apt to manifest on weekends, this might explain why he avoids them, but I’m not sure that’s all there is to it. Marcus may secretly covet the action–to dream of it, in fact–but wherever the action is, there’s John, a legion of Johns, amped up on action, action-happy, pontificating and clowning around and generally filling Marcus with a vicious loathing for humanity.   To compete with John for the action’s hub, no matter how gorgeous the action is, is to admit defeat on some deep level.   Or maybe, like me, Marcus isn’t sure what “action” actually means.

        Another thing: while Marcus enjoys being in the spotlight (so long as “action” is absent), he refuses to draw it to himself, presumably relying upon introverts to do the dirty work for him.   One of the many things the chart doesn’t make clear is how he goes about doing this, since he’s (1) rotten at making friends, and (2) purposely enigmatic in the company of strangers.   Possibilities:

  • Bribery.   Marcus pays Sarah and David to hang around with him in an approving way.   This is unlikely, though: it’s more of a John move.   John wouldn’t see anything wrong with it. And a true introvert such as David couldn’t be bought off.
  • The recognition of kindred spirits. Introverts sense that for all his low-wattage charm, he’s really one of them. They gaze at him benignly and encourage his wit with restrained, honest laughter. The extroverts just can’t figure him out, and as they pass by on their way to the Next Big Thing, they pause to study him. Who the hell is this guy?

        The unhappiest of the bunch, it turns out, because, just like John, he can’t stand himself, and unlike John, he admits it. Without an audience he falls apart.   He can’t even work effectively unless he’s surrounded by other people. His weekends must be hell.