Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Watching Your Words

If you've got teenagers, I probably don't need to tell you that 'random' and 'gay' don't mean what they used to. If you don't have teenagers, consider yourself informed.

It took me by surprise at first. "I don't like her," my fifteen-year-old sniffed about a former friend. "She's gay." Since I haven't taught my daughter to be homophobic and the girl in question has several boyfriends, I expressed surprise and dismay. My child looked at me as though I were too pathetic for words. "Mom," she said in her most maddening talking-to-an-idiot voice, "I don't mean that."

For lexicographers I suppose, it's all in a day's work. I remember my parents' confusion and irritation when 'gay' ceased to mean 'Brilliantly colored' or 'carefree and merry' and became simply 'homosexual.' Now 'homosexual' has to get bumped back one as 'unpleasant' becomes definition number one. If I ever have grandchildren, I'll bet by the time they're teenagers 'gay' will be used to describe things like garden parties and French ponies again.

Irritatingly enough, 'random' means just the same thing as 'gay' now does: 'unpleasant' or 'repugnant.' This also makes for confusion. Consider the following: "Today, this random man came up to us and asked us what time it was." If you hear a teenager say something like this, it does not mean that the man in question appeared in a haphazard manner, it means that your teenager considered him unpleasant.

And then there's that wonderful catch-all 'whatever.' I couldn't understand this one at first. I would seem to be winning an argument, making points that my daughter could hardly refute, marshaling evidence that I knew to be convincing and persuasive. And she would give me a hard look, turn on her heel, and fire back that one word: "Whatever." Now I've figured it out: when you're quarreling with your kid and she says "Whatever," it means that she's lost. And she knows it.

They say that having kids keeps you young. Personally, I have my doubts about that. But it certainly makes you watch your words.