We should be able to tell something about the speaker from a conversation. A person’s choice of words can be shorthand for characterization. In My Fair Lady, Professor Henry Higgins brags that he can tell from a person’s speech where they’re from, sometimes he can even pinpoint the exact address.
Although regional accents are fading, at least in the United States, one can still show who someone is by their words. If I had a character refer to their friend as their “bro,” you wouldn’t think the speaker was a middle-aged affluent woman. You’d assume it was a guy, probably in his twenties.
Similarly, if a character used the word awesome, you’d figure the speaker was either in his thirties or trying to appear younger than he is—which gives you a wholly different picture, but impression nonetheless.
Then there is usage that’s come into our language that isn’t necessarily correct or accurate but has been adopted by so many it’s become part of our language whether we like it or not.
“No problem,” is my candidate for an expression that doesn’t make sense. From the first time I heard “No problem,” said in response to a thank you, I hated it. Even now, thirty years later, I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “who said there was a problem? I just said thank you!”
But this is not the only one that bothers me. How about “he (or she or I or you) did good.” Am I the only one irritated by this bastardization? If I am, I imagine a time in the not too distant future where everyone will say, “he did good,” and I’ll be prim and proper old lady hanging on to an outdated concept. Slowly but surely “he (and whoever else is to be included) did good,” has crept into our usage.
In closing, I should set the record straight before anyone thinks I’m the grammar police. I’m so not by birth or family of origin or practice. My birth family was and is made up of avid and serious readers who pride themselves on their intellectualism but who play fast and loose with the objective case. “Between you and I,” could have been said in my house growing up without offending anyone. On the other hand, Dylan Thomas, Raymond Carver and Cormac McCarthy were all patron saints.
But I married into the Nolan family who, though not all readers (there are a few notable exceptions), were raised, from all accounts, by the grammar Gestapo. Suffice to say that with my 40th wedding anniversary coming up this year, I’ve cleaned up my act. But my husband and my critique partners will tell you, I still make plenty of mistakes. But as it is true with religion, it is also true with grammar, “there’s no one more scrupulous than a convert.”
I assume that anyone reading this has their own grammatical and usage pet peeves and I would love to hear about them.