February 16, 2007
Today's Slate has a piece on the rise of interjections as a substitution for actual words in speech, on blogs and other websites, and in actual respectable newspapers. The clip above shows a textbook use of the "awwa!", or in more linguistic notation, "aww/uh!", an interjection used to express delight in the adorableness of something that is popular among teenage girls and, in written form, LiveJournalers.
The article provides a good overview of interjections of years past, such as "duh!", "not!", and "ka-ching!", which all seem to have outlived their socially acceptability in speech and writing. "Meh" and "feh" are more recent examples that maybe demonstrate the growing apathy and noncommital attitude of youth culture.
Other more generic interjections that are used by all ages are the interesting ones, in my opinion. "Ha", "haha!", and "HAHAHAHAHAAAA!" are unoriginal, yet I never get tired of them or feel false when I write them. While "lol" or "rotfl" or "lmao" suggest a teenage MySpace user, a simple "haha" is universal and not attached to any particular age group or other demographic identifer. Like Ben Yagoda, the author of the Slate piece, I feel proud when I get a written "haha!" as a response to a joke.
But the interjection that is probably most common in speech, and most grating in writing, is "um". Right now I formally apologize for any usage of the interjection "um" in anything I have ever written. As Ben Yagoda wrote, "um" has "been flagrantly overused by feature writers and columnists to signal an impending attempt at irony or humor; the maneuver is now well beyond cliché, somewhere in the neighborhood of desperation." Writers at newspapers like the Chicago Sun-Times and the Toronto Sun use "um" to indicate that they are saying something marginally off-color or making a lame joke ("Watch for Justin Timberlake pairing up with someone in a duet, which often can be quite, um, revealing").
If you have written a joke that isn't funny enough for your readers to notice that it's a joke without preceding it with an "um", it probably isn't a good joke.
If the best we can do these days to add some spice to our writing is "um" and "meh", then I think we have no choice but to revive some of the colorful interjections of yore that never find their way into published writing anymore. Such as "darn tootin'".
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