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.