I do not think it means what you think it means

This post’s title is, of course, inspired by that cinematic opus, The Princess Bride. But then, really, what isn’t inspired by The Princess Bride? I submit to you that it is one of the most perfect films ever made and that it should have won every award possible, including the Nobel Peace Prize. If you don’t agree, just go watch it now and you’ll be too happy when it’s done to feel badly about the fact that you’re wrong.

Now, in this film there are many incredibly hilarious, poignant, and unforgettable moments; one of my favourites is the scene during which Inigo “You killed my father, prepare to die” Montoya suggests to Vizzini that he doesn’t possess the skills required to properly deploy his favourite adjective, “inconceivable.”

If you’re expecting a post devoted to the kids’ use of “random” these days, e.g., “I went to the mall last night, and there was this guy dressed up as Santa singing ‘Sexy and I Know It’–it was just so random!”, you would be reasonable but also incorrect.

Or maybe you wouldn’t be entirely incorrect. Let us ponder for a moment, since we’re here, just how “random” came to be used this way. Yes, yes, I know–yesterday’s errors are today’s examples of proper usage, BUT HOW DID THIS PARTICULAR DISASTER of diction come about? It’s likely that some super-cool kid just busted out the first of a long series of abused “randoms” in the caf one rainy Thursday, and it caught on via peer pressure, adoring emulation, and people being blinded by the spoken equivalent of a new shiny bauble–the same way “elide” and “metaphorize” caught on in university English departments in the early 2000s, in other words.

I’d rather prefer to imagine that such misuses (re-imaginings) constitute a kind of explosive magic akin to either the birth of a new universe or spontaneous combustion, and that scientists (as well as Charles Dickens, in the case of the second possibility) will spend their lives waxing poetic and scientific as they create new linguistic origin stories.

But I began this post with a particular instance of a strange phrase, rather than a misused single word, in mind. This is the phrase: “I was thinking inside my head…” E.g., “I was actually thinking inside my head that the Cloud Atlas film adaptation wouldn’t be the worst thing ever made! I have to go watch The Princess Bride again to make the pain stop.”

Obvious question (and no sexist, gender-based stereotypes about male body parts are allowed up in here, got it? We don’t subscribe to that shit at Jam and Idleness): Where do all the people I hear using this construction do their thinking when they’re not thinking inside their heads? (My favourite recent example: I was walking down my street when a couple walked by and the lady said, “She actually thinks, inside her brain, that she’s hot!!!”) It is assumed that the thinking goes on inside the head; it is implied in the very word “think”. It is only when NOT thinking solely inside one’s head that a distinction is required, e.g., “He was thinking out loud about how to break it to her that Cloud Atlas was to star Tom Hanks when she walked in; she began gnashing her teeth and tearing her hair as he looked on in helpless horror.”

I can’t speak to the level of education that person I passed on my street possesses, but I hear otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate people using this construction on a pretty regular basis now. Why, dammit, why? Isn’t emphasis in tone of voice enough? Why isn’t, “I (was) actually thinking/thought that if I went to the Wachowskis’s house to convince them not to make Cloud Atlas into a film, they wouldn’t have me arrested for trespassing and harassment!” sufficiently clear?

Well it is, obviously, and that’s why I’m irked by this new development. But I’m more bemused and pre-guilty than irked; I feel terrible urges, in the face of such usage, to publicly embarrass people, including people I like, by demanding to know where they do their thinking in other situations. I want to smile wryly and knowingly at them and make them feel insecure without them knowing why. Is this how the first shocked recipients of “irregardless” felt? How did they rise above the ethical morass that immediately began sucking at the part of their brains devoted to good grammar and proper diction?

Well, Inigo Montoya thought correction could, in cases of language, be kind and gentle–and he liked to run people through with his sword. If a rampaging murderer such as him can restrain himself, then I suppose I can too. But where’s the fun in that?

From now on, I will preface all linguistic beat downs with this: Hello, my name is Jam and Idleness. You killed my language. Prepare to die.

6 Comments Add yours

    1. Colleen says:

      I’m sorry for pushing you down that hill! I’ll never doubt again.

  1. Brook says:

    I respectfully submit that ‘the same way “elide” and “metaphorize” caught on in university English departments in the early 2000s,’ be replaced with “the same way “elide” and “metaphorize” metastasized in university English departments in the early 2000s,’ after all, the abus(iv)e use of medical language (not to mention quasi-witty in-word parentheticals) was popular — or should I say concomitant?
    If it makes you feel better, my puny spell check dictionary does not yet recognize metaphorize.

    1. Colleen says:

      I know an agent provacateur when I see one! On guard!

  2. trapunto says:

    Wow. “In my head” hasn’t reached my part of the world yet. Forewarned is forearmed . . . with a rapier–what a good idea!

    1. Colleen says:

      You’re welcome. Maybe I should move to your part of the world. 🙂

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