There are certain words I say all the time. As in (and I’ve counted) as often as 15 times a day. These words are defaults, slightly more illustrative “ums,” when I don’t have anything more creative, or specific, to say to you. Or I’m just being lazy, sorry.
Let’s start with “sorry” — the worst, most classic offender, said in the most innocuous situations. Bumping into someone anytime, anywhere. When someone nudges in front of me on the subway (a terrible, knee-jerk reaction.) When I hear what you said, but it was so bizarre I need to hear it again. Sorry? Spacing out at packages of Selfie Sticks at the counter at Duane Reade and wondering if I really don’t need one last gift… if Selfie Sticks are, in a sense, a more inclusive photo accessory, allowing for more landscape, more people in your photo. So, then, is it really a “Selfie” Stick?
The cashier clears her throat. “Ahem.”
“Oh!” I wake up. “Sorry.”
According to a 2010 study, we women do apologize more often than men — sort of. The study found that women just found more things worthy of an apology. We may be more attuned to minute, daily infractions. And we know it chips away at our power and confidence. But really, my “sorry” isn’t so much a pardon for my transgression — it’s just a bad tic.
AND IT MUST STOP.
Of course there are reasons to say you’re sorry — like when you’ve truly fucked up.
(You know, that time you bought your friend’s Moog keyboard from them in 1998 with the idea that they’d buy it back some day…. and then once you left the band you sold it. I’m sorry, Nancy! I’m sorry! Actually, I’m not sorry. You moved to Ireland. I believe they call that move your meat, lose your Moog.)
Less impactful, and for that reason, even more worth tossing out are “totally” and “cool.”
Totally is just weird — for a few reasons. It’s a word that shouldn’t even exist. A room is either clean or it’s not. It’s not totally clean. Plus, a 40-something woman who still says “totally” like she’s at a slumber party dancing to the Tubes… unseemly.
But the way I use it (and probably you do, too) is to assuredly agree with someone, a verbal high-five.
Should we order Seamless for dinner tonight? Totally.
Are you into The Walking Dead? Oh, yeah, totally.
Instead, perhaps, I should elucidate: “Yeah, I appreciate the effortless way the zombies nosh on the human flesh.”
Or not. At least I’m not saying “totes”… much.
Then there’s cool. Where to begin with cool? Cool is everyresponse. I’ve been trying to stop saying cool since the ‘90s.
Let’s go see a movie at BAM. Cool.
Check out this article in The Atlantic. Cool.
What do you think of the new D’Angelo album? Totally cool!
Cool has NO MEANING. Well, it did once back in the ninth century when the word was “Col.” As in “hey, do you want to join us at today’s hanging in the town square?” “Col.”
I like to think of myself as a wordsmith, someone with a varied vocabulary, who ought to flex the finer words.
So for the next 30 days I’m going to ban Sorry, Totally and Cool from my repertoire. I’ll think of it as a way to exercise my brain, to stop, think and say something more accurate and descriptive.
I have a colleague who, when she’s taken a while to respond to a client, starts her emails with, “Regret the delay” — a sort of cold, impersonal statement that makes her sound all business (and not at fault).
This doesn’t mean I’m not going to apologize when warranted, it just means that when I bump into you I might say “oops.”
Totally follow Margit’s progress at @Margit.