When I open my web-browser’s home page, I am deluged with daily articles both newsworthy and un – especially un. You know what I’m talking about – articles that read: “5 Things Not to Do With Your Nostrils On a First Date” or “Why Dressing Like David Hasselhoff May Get You Fired.” Well, today’s helpful article was entitled, “The Worst Words to Say at Work.” (Actually, it’s a very good article – you should check it out. It’s written by Linnda Durre at Forbes.com.) In essence one should avoid: “Try,” “Whatever,” “Maybe,” “I’ll get back to you,” “If,” “Yes, but…,” I guess…,” and “We’ll see….” These words and phrases tend to paint us as weak, dismissive or wishy-washy. So for the sake of our careers, we should work at erasing these negative phrases from our thinking – right? WRONG.
Lemme explain. If you’re in a corporate situation with buyers and bosses and bean-counters, then, of course you should lose those phrases. But if you’re a writer, put those “worst words” into your gag files. (Gag files to be discussed in a later blog.) Suppose you’re faced with a project akin to “The Office,” and you’ve got a weak, dismissive or wishy-washy character in your corporate cast. What a godsend to have those phrases at your fingers tips! You can use the words as punchlines in a comedy (“Jenkins, would you consider yourself to be wishy-washy?” / (shrugging) “Maybe. I dunno.”) or use them simply as character colorations in a drama. (“Jenkins, I want that pickpocket as our star witness.” “All right, sir, I’ll try to convince him.” “Good God, man. Mrs. Bott’s life is at stake. Show some initiative!”)
As for me, I detest the use of common redundant phrases. Things like “I had went to the store already” or “he shrugged his shoulders” or “irregardless” or “they chased after me” or “the stock market plummeted downward.” These grate on me, because they are “mangle-ations” of the English language and smack of low educational accomplishments. However, if my script character is supposed to be someone of low educational accomplishments, then guess what phrases I’m going to put into his dialogue?! Yup. Whether it’s an uneducated team coach (“You gotta take the bulldog by the horns!”) or a language-mangler like Tigger (“Ipso fatso, bunny boy!”), you’re going to have a plethora of wonderfully tattered English phrases if you keep your “ear on the ball.”
Believe me, you are constantly surrounded by bad English – and all of it’s good if you’re a sharp writer. Listen to that teen on her cell phone. (“Am I prettier now than what you thought she was when you were dating her?”) Or that DMV employee. (“Now I’m gonna take yer pitcher.”) Or that chatty hair dresser. (“Bill’s my sufficient other.”) [And don’t get me started on George Dub-ya Bush-isms!] Write it all down. Even elocutionist Henry Higgins jotted down examples of horrible language as part of his vocation. So be ready with pencil and paper the next time a Wal-Mart clerk states, “I had wore a big smile on my face.” This tense-mangled, redundant phrase could be the cutest line in your next script.