Work of Art: It may sound sil-ly

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By Art Trujillo

‘What’s happened to Lee?” my friend Susan Swan straight-facedly asked me this week, and I fidgeted while attempting an answer.

“Well, Lee, our erstwhile features editor at the Optic, isn’t with us any longer,” I think I answered. Susan responded, “I don’t mean that Lee.”

But let’s back up a little. We’ll get to the other Lee in a few graphs.

Language is what people say it is, which is why you won’t ever find me criticizing its usage.

Yeah, right.

 For centuries, we’ve made distinctions between nouns, adjectives and adverbs. Mixing them up, confusing the three parts of speech, is easy. I know. And I believe I’m better at it than you are.

There was a movement decades ago, promulgated mainly by newspaper types, to get rid of the y-endings in words like “relevancy,” “coherency,” “permanency” and “radiancy.” Why? Because we know that these words — all of them nouns — add nothing to understanding and can better be expressed as the original words, “relevance,” “coherence,” “permanence,” “radiance,” etc. Call this theory “un-y’s” if you wish, but stay with me.

Hoping to find support for my contention that these y-endings are pointless and silly, I did research online and came across a web site that lists dozens of nouns ending with –ncy.

Some words simply must end in –ncy, words like consistency, decency and incumbency, but a slew of other –ncy words can be expressed better if they end simply in -nce. Among these words are affluence, abeyance, belligerence, brilliance, competence, constance, deviance and elegance. All of these words, by the way, have –ncy companions, which mean the same thing.

Whereas it’s usual to find thousands of words with multiple meanings, it should not be so common to find two almost-identical spellings of the above words, when they have identical meanings.

When I come across words like “correspondency,” I want to utter choice expletives. But decence forbids. And I need more patiency.

 Now, back to Lee:

 Susan was referring not to the former award-winning editor but to the demise of another kind of Lee, the “–ly,” which turns most adjectives into adverbs, such as handsome and handsomely, steady and steadily and merry and merrily. Susan mentioned that the truncation of the words occurred — of all places — during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Susan said, “They used expressions like ‘They ran that race successful (no –ly),’ ‘they moved swift,’ and ‘They skated graceful.’”

So I checked out Susan’s theory, by replaying some of the commentary by Olympic anchors Bob Costas and Cris Collingsworth, I discovered they had indeed stripped the –ly from some would-be adverbs.

Now if we can’t even trust network experts, supposed exemplars of language usage, whom can we trust?         

Is the English language heading south (southerly)? Teen-speak, virtually everywhere, has devolved into a series of “I go,” “you go” and “he, she or it goes.” This is what I mean: Rather than use the verb “say” or “said,” many teens simply “go.”

European teens don’t miss out either. Every American nuance they can add to their otherwise good English, they’ve apparently adopted. Last year my family and I stood in line at a fast-food place in Stockholm, Sweden, listening to Big-Mac-swallowing teens. One teenie-bopper goes, “I think I’ll order like a fish fillet.” When his time came, he like asked for exactly that: “I’ll have like a fish fillet.”

In France, teens freely inserted “like” and “go” into virtually every locution. In Germany, youngsters spoke English and strangely sounded a lot like American youth. And in Denmark where we seldom hear English, and where teens appear to speak their native language first, we were still able to converse in English with some of them.

We asked directions of some Danish youngsters at a sidewalk café. And what words did they use most? Naturally, they uttered “ya know” a lot, as well as “like” and “go.” One explained that “If you turn like left at the statues, you’re, ya know, there.” Remember, in Copenhagen, there’s a difference between turning “left” and turning “like left.”

The “go-ing” is partly the result of attempting to capture the complete dialogue, no matter how vacuous. For example, I overheard a conversation between two teens at the recreation center in town. One teen was telling another about a phone call she’d just completed.

Here is a (much) shortened account:

“Jim called me and he goes, ‘Whatcha doin’? I go, ‘Nothing much. You?’ He goes, ‘Wanna go out for breakfast?’ I go, ‘Why not?’”

In real time, it took as long for the girl to recite her news flash as the original conversation. And because of her total inability to summarize, she needed to repeat every word.

Strange, but I’m hearing less of “I’m like . . .” as it gets pre-empted by “go.” Whereas Valley Girl Speak floods each recitation with “like,” the newer trend simply “goes.”

For example, the same phone call described above would have been like:

“Jim called and he’s like, ‘Whatcha doin’?”

“And I’m like, ‘Nothing much. You?’”

Either way, the one listening to the dialogue needs to stick around to catch every word of the performance, including the denouement, the stunning conclusion: “He’s like,  ‘Wanna go out for breakfast?’ and I’m like, ‘Why not?’”

“I go” and “I’m like” should never replace “say.” Remember, trains go choo-choo, dogs go bow-wow and cats are like “meow.”

But people say things. Or at least they should.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.