Sunday, October 20, 2013

Extremist Language

As befits countries that have superpower identifications, both America and Russia are cultures of bombast, where superlatives rule in everyday speech, and yes/да and no/нет are seldom considered sufficient to express answers, just as crudities pepper colloquial language.  I didn’t realize this until graduate school, when I was taking classes at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, and was poking through the library there one afternoon and found a book on international communication.  The book, whose title I wish I could remember, spent a page or two on each world culture, from Australia to Zimbabwe, describing concepts of time, standard polite gestures and others to be avoided, and general patterns of speech.  For example, bowing and proffering one’s business card was standard upon meeting in Japan, in Saudi Arabia one should never ask after a man’s wife, in Ukraine money shouldn’t be handed directly to cashiers (but placed on a handy tray instead), and so forth. Some places it was customary to arrive before the scheduled time, in other places fashionably late.  Some people shook their heads up and down negatively and side to side affirmatively.  Some required small-talk before a business matter was addressed, others got straight to the point.  It was a fascinating look at practical ethno-cultural profiling, and I curiously flipped to the “American” section, where I discovered that the authors had felt it necessary to explain that we frequently use overly dramatic words and concepts to express ourselves: “Our boss is going to blow his top”, “So-and-so’s going to kill me”, etc., for the boss simply not agreeing with something, or someone being put out with us.  I realized that I do this all the time—my phone doesn’t merely lose charge, it “dies”, my computer “crashes”, I “starve” when I’m hungry, and I’m sure there are many other examples.  For Americans in general, this tendency perhaps accounts for the proliferation of the “f” word in everyday speech over the last couple of decades, because most Americans feel the need to ratchet up their expressive intensity without having to actually expand their vocabularies.  It’s sad.


Anonymous said...

Someone I'm very close to would say "F--- that s---!" and laugh uproariously.

KYP said...

I can hear him now! :-). And he doesn't have the excuse of a small vocabulary, either. Anybody who can casually refer to trichotillomania in company has plenty of other words to choose from, but he'd probably respond, correctly, "Why the hell should I bother, since most people wouldn't know what I mean?"

Paul said...

Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands