“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.

5 Comments “Incredulous as it may sound…”

  1. Sujatha Hampton

    Hi Jincy,

    You read my book, As It Was Written, and wrote me a wonderful blurb and I have been wanting to write you since. Let me first respond to the blogpost as I am supposed to. I HATE when people say, “I could care less,” when they actually mean they couldn’t care less. But in general, I try not to complain as it does no one any good at all.

    I just got The Writing Class and I’m loving it. I wanted to order it signed from the little shop you suggested, BUT I saw it on the shelf of new fiction at that institutional behemoth that rules us all that will heretofore be known only as Bile and Nausea, but whom we need desperately to survive in this field of endeavor we have chosen (and which makes it very difficult to maintain my general philosophy of not complaining…) anyway, AND I broke down and bought it there because I am highly disorganized and if I don’t do things when they come up, I forget to do them and they occupy too much mental space…

    I really wanted to write and thank you for reading my book and for writing such a lovely thought about it, and for offering such a keen insight about Del Musick (Which I KNEW and TOLD THEM) which allowed me to put him back together to some extent anyway. I think your book is great. I am determining what to steal from you and this is what it is: how to be funny and creepy and totally terrifying and lighthearted all at the same time… Your book is too funny to be scaring me so much. THAT is an altogether brilliant combination.

    Peace and love,

    Sujatha

  2. Kate

    Reiterate.

    Which means to repeat again but is always used incorrectly, and which drives me nuts.

    That and irregardless, which isn’t even a word. (Though I may once have told a snotty 12th grader that it was because she pissed me off.)

  3. Tess Link

    The distinction between imply and infer has unravelled to the point that Webster’s now lists imply as a definition of infer! One more nuance gone….

  4. Chris Conroy

    I’m always amazed at how many people say “I could care less.”
    It’s usually the same people who use the word “literally” as an intensifier.

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