There have been other expressions that irk me. The cutting edge. Pushing the envelope. Ferr shuuure. But really, when it comes to phrases in modern parlance there are few that make me crazier (or, if you prefer, push my buttons) than ‘Ruining my life’.
It’s my own fault for being on twitter, I suppose. You trip over words (meme? gif?) that remind you you’re not a teenager any more. I like to think it’s helpful for me as a writer to know what people younger than I are saying (that would be everyone, then). But this specific phrase ‘ruining my life’ makes me rethink my whole strategy.
Hang on to you hats, folks, because there’s a grumpy old attitude coming up.
And here it is: Why don’t people think about what they’re saying?
The first person to use ‘LOL’ was pretty clever. At the time, the subject under discussion probably was worth a laugh out loud. But the expression has become meaningless through overuse. Things that barely warrant a smile have an LOL attached. Worse, comments that are frankly insulting have an LOL attached. It’s like the speaker feels they can hit you with a zinger and you won’t retaliate because they’re shielded by their bloody annoying LOL. It’s the text-speak equivalent of ‘Don’t take this personally.’ Whenever people say that you know there’s a blow to your psyche’s solar plexus coming up. And how else are you supposed to take it if not personally? I mean, really. Grow a pair, people. If you intend to insult someone then it should, at the very least, be personal. Keep your LOLs to yourself, or at least save them for, you know, humour.
Then there are those expressions that lose something when they cross the Atlantic. ‘Falling through the cracks’ – a perfectly understandable expression, becomes ‘Falling between the cracks.’ Aargh! You can’t fall between cracks because, you know, that’s solid ground. Falling through the cracks, while a cliché, at least has an internal logic that mitigates (somewhat) the repetition. Falling between the cracks is meaningless.
And then there’s ‘I couldn’t care less’. OK, we in these here British Isles know that means we already care the least amount they could; caring less would be impossible. So why do Americans say ‘I could care less?’ Does that mean they don’t care a lot, but somewhat? There’s still a small amount less they could care?
Who makes these changes? Can we hold them to account in some sort of linguistic courtroom? Can we force them to attend an Aaron Sorkin class for the philologically-impaired?
But my pet hate – and we’re talking outrage of massive proportions here – is ‘ruining my life’.
What do I hate about it? Where to begin…
Firstly, it’s lazy. The people who say it – mostly kids, I’d guess, but probably older people too who should know better but want, God help us, to sound ‘hip’ – don’t think about what it means.
What it means is they have such a crush on someone that person has destroyed their life. OK, let’s examine the passivity of this: They are willing to let their lives been ruined by someone they’ve never met. What they mean is their addiction to that person (film, song, group) has overwhelmed them. What they mean is someone they’ve never met has taken control of their daily activities.
Seriously, people, get a grip.
Addiction is a real thing and should not be taken lightly. Addiction can and does ruin lives: addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, self-mutilation. These things destroy lives every day. But if your fondness for Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston really is destroying your life – and think about it carefully: how exactly are they doing that? – then you need to seek professional help.
Having a crush on a celebrity is perfectly understandable and normal. We’ve all been through it. I had The Monkees pictures on my bedroom wall as a teenager, but my fondness for the late, much-missed Davy Jones enhanced my life, not ruined it. (And I’ll thank you not to make digs at my age or my beloved Monkees. Davy was King, OK?)
Then there’s the ‘not my responsibility’ aspect. I’d rather watch The Avengers for the fifteenth time this week rather than go to school, college, work. Better to blame the cast than to take responsibility for my own actions?
Seriously. Grow up.
Of course, the people who use this expression probably don’t give the slightest thought to what it says about them. Which brings me back to my original point: the laziness of the cliché. The thing is, some expressions are so powerful we cannot help but incorporate them into our daily usage. Shakespeare was a devil for giving us phrases that are the be all and end all (see what I did there) for the lazy speaker.
However, Shakespeare’s phrases have an elegance that have allowed them to last half a millennium. Most modern clichés have – thank God! – a much shorter shelf life.
No one says ‘groovy’ now, unless they’re being ironic. It got tossed along with tie-died tee shirts.
‘Fer shuur’ has been buried in a back yard in Burbank, may it rest in peace.
With luck ‘Ruining my life’ will follow to the unhappy graveyard of dull, foolish, irksome clichés.
Language matters. Writing matters. I saw a tweet yesterday from a grown woman with a job who said that she was ‘trying to get back into cursive writing. It’s hard.’ That’s not merely alarming, it’s terrifying. Have people really forgotten how to hold a pen and write? I hope they never become famous or they won’t be able to sign their autograph. Oh the horror!
It could ruin their lives.