You’d probably have to speak to my mum about this, but it’s a fair bet to assume that when I was an insolent teen, barely a two syllable word crossed my lips. After all, why use a complicated phrase when a perfunctory grunt will suffice? Insufferable teen boys bear more resemblance to mountain gorillas than the insufferable grown men they will eventually become. Although gorillas at least tidy up after themselves, and don’t throw a strop when they’re told that they can’t watch Grange Hill and need to set the table instead.
Of course, the tried-and-tested stock phrase of the teen – male or female – is ‘uh-huh’. ‘Uh-huh’ is the gift that just keeps on giving. Trying to get an overbearing grandparent off the phone? Just ‘uh-huh’ in response to every single question (especially when the question is ‘are you capable of saying anything other than ‘uh-huh’?). Want peas with that? ‘Uh-huh’ to your heart’s content (even if the thought of peas makes your stomach turn – then at least you can throw a tantrum when they’re eventually put on your plate).
But, as I believe Paul said when he hastily typed one of his lengthy emails to the Corinthians, when we become men, we put away childish things. Or at least hide them in the corner and hope that nobody will notice. ‘Uh-huh’ was banished to the outer-reaches of our consciousness, and only called upon on occasions of national importance. Such as when The Special One asks me if I want another beer while United are on the attack in a vital season-altering game.
So ‘uh-huh’ was abandoned at about age 17, and never heard from again. Until I came to the United States, that is. Here, ‘uh-huh’ falls into the facile platitude category, and I swear that I hear it on a near daily basis. It’s essentially substituting for ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘it was nothing’. Or even ‘you’re bloody lucky that I’m such a nice guy and have demeaned myself by helping you out’.
It’s weirdly off-putting though to thank somebody profusely for their contribution to a project (even if that project is ‘ensuring that my caffeine level doesn’t dip below a five cup minimum’) and have them respond with a phrase more suited to a
sweetcandy stealing youth with oozing spots and a penchant for mutilation, than to a smartly-dressed professional.
I’ve decided that the only way to counter this verbal drift is by turning the tables. Next time somebody asks me ‘what’s up’, I’m going to launch into a prolonged discussion of Japanese economics, and the effects of optimum taxation on the common man.
It’s the only language these people understand.