Verbal Crutches of the Last Two Centuries

Verbal Crutches of the Last Two Centuries

William E. Stein, D.D.S.*:

When did we lose the ability to speak the English language succinctly?
My guess is as soon as they took the rulers out of the hands of the nuns, the Mother Tongue began to deteriorate.

I think it must have started in the 1950’s with the “hep-cat” “bebop” speech of the beatniks: “Hey man, give me some skin!” To the sixties, “Far Out!” To the seventies, “I want some night life, I want to boogie ... I want some akshawnn!” To the eighties, “Yo, dude, I mean dude! Whoa! Dude!” To the nineties, “What up, bro?” Put it all together and this is what you heard at the end of the last century: “Hello, young person. Would you be so kind as to direct me to the local public library?” “Um, okay, uh, well, you know, uh, it’s just like down there, uh, you know, um, kinda by the Legion Club, you know?”

Enter the new century. The verbal crutches of um, well, ah, and, and you know have been replaced by the products of years of “non-judgmental” education.

For instance, a few months ago, in Rome, I had the extreme privilege of taking a tour of the “Scavi”. “Scavi” is short for the Italian word for “excavation”. In the 1930s, workers discovered that St. Peter’s Basilica was built over an ancient Roman necropolis, a city of the dead, complete with streets and mausoleums where Roman families would come to honor their pagan ancestors. When St. Peter was martyred by the Emperor Nero, being crucified upside down in deference to our Lord Jesus, the ancient Christians came and stole his body, cutting off his feet for expediency, and buried him in secret.

Once the Emperor Constantine converted to the Christian faith, a great Basilica was built over Peter’s grave in the necropolis. The Basilica has been built and rebuilt, the last with the help of Michelangelo.

Just before World War II, the necropolis was rediscovered, and in the last couple of decades the tomb of St. Peter has been found to be exactly under the great altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. The bones of St. Peter have been certified genuine by the greatest forensic pathologist in Italy. All the bones are there except for his feet, which were cut off at the cross.

Our guide for the Scavi tour was a very holy, yet young, seminarian from the North American Pontifical College. The young man was new as a guide, but he was very reverent and prayerful, bringing his Bible to pray with us the relevant prayers at the important sites of our tour.

Unfortunately, his language was twenty-first century “non-judgmental speak”: “Actually we are kind of going to sort of explore the ancient Roman cemetery that is kind of under the Basilica, and we will sort of actually see the bones of St. Peter.”

Question: “Will we actually sort of see the bones of St. Peter?”
Answer: “Absolutely!”
“Absolutely” is evidently the word that now passes for “yes”.

Oh, I don’t know. Am I just getting too old and curmudgeonly? Or will I live to a ripe old age where the government will be required to provide an interpreter for me in my dotage when I am reduced to speaking English?

For an interesting experiment, tomorrow, listen to yourself and all the folks you converse with and see how often “kind of” and “sort of” and similar words sneak into your speech.

Be aware that when we are speaking to our patients we owe them a clear assessment of their condition and a reasonable explanation of their prognoses and treatment options. We are not “Gonna sort of do a root canal on tooth number fourteen and then we kind of have to make a crown on it or it might sort of crack and then we might need to kind of take it out.”

Good luck!

*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minn.,