Did you ever notice how some verbal expressions have an extra meaning for you, just you, because of history? In reflecting on this, it is impossible to not consider such lofty topics as memes, cultural transmission, and … well, meaning. A particular expression might invoke a memory of an event, or of a person who often uses that expression. That can be a pleasant experience, or an unpleasant one. If you know what I mean.
A moment or two ago a person who could only be described as annoying, whom I do not personally know, corrected me on Facebook. I had responded to Carl Zimmer‘s lament that he was unable to look back at Facebook entries, RSS feeds, and so on that had accumulated during his one week vacation. My comment was simply to say that absolutely nothing had happened over the previous week, so he should not worry. Obviously, I was kidding. But Mr. Annoying had to jump in with some news items that had in fact happened, with the implication that these news stories were very important to him and I was really bad for suggesting that it had been a slow week.
He started his Facebook troll-comment1 with the phrase “Not so…”
It turns out that2 I can’t hear or read a comment that starts with “Not so…” without getting real annoyed because it is a verbal expression that has extra meaning to me.
This extra meaning comes from a guy I knew when I was very young. Ten years old plus or minus one, I would say. He was a man of about twenty two who did his hair and beard up to look exactly like the standard Western depiction of Jesus Christ. One time, while staring at my aunt, who was a Franciscan nun, he simply said to her “Do I remind you of someone?” She thought for a moment and answered “Yes, actually, you remind me of a DJ I know in Hawaii,” and kind of grinned.
Anyway, he was trying to court my sister, and he was a councilor at the boys camp next to the state camp ground my family would live on for the months of May and June most summers. No matter what I ever said, he’d respond “Not so…” and then tell me how I was wrong.
I was rarely wrong, so this was especially annoying. I was just a kid, and he was Jesus Christ, so he probably figured I was wrong all the time by default, but little did he know that I was one of those obnoxious precocious smart kids who in fact had already read his first encyclopedia and was about half way through his second, which he was carefully and sincerely doing just so that some day he could say “Oh. Encyclopedias. Yeah, I read a couple of those…”
So, if you say “Not so … bla bla bla” to me I’ll rarely hear the bla bla bla, I’ll think of this obnoxious guy (well, I think my sister liked him, but she was a teenager at the time so that does not mean much) and I won’t be listening to the rest of your sentence. Rather, I’ll be pleasantly recalling in my mind the fate that eventually came to Jesus Christ. Which was, if you must know, this: The boys at the boys camp, many of whom had been sent there by their parole or probation officers, were also annoyed by Jesus Christ. So one day he walked in after lights out to make sure the kids were all in their bunks, and some kids dropped on him from the rafters of the crudely built dormitory, tied him up, and shaved off every bid of hair on his head. I think they even plucked his nose hairs out for good measure.
So, that what i’ll be thinking about. You, de-haired.
I have a more pleasant example: “That makes me laugh.”
Last night, I was having coffee with Lizzie, and we were talking about her life and her plans for the next few years, which could involve moving. So we were talking about how representative New York City was of the rest of the east coast, and this got me on to a topic I often bring up which is how to know a phrase or mannerism is particular to an individual, vs. regionally or subregionally used. When I first moved to Minnesota, I already knew about certain Midwestern mannerisms, because I had lived in the Midwest for a while a couple of years earlier. So when people started randomly talking to me in the video rental store, I knew this was a Midwestern thing. I quickly learned that Minnesotans, uniquely and to the exclusion of Wisconsinites, reversed the meaning of “yet” and “still” compared to people on the east coast.
But there were other things I was not so sure of, and several of these came from my BFF Stephanie, who is the first person who took the time and energy to really show me around The Cities. She would say, for instance, “that makes me laugh” quite frequently (but at appropriate times). I didn’t know at first if “that makes me laugh” was her or Minnesota or the Midwest. After a while I concluded that it was Stephanie. But then I met my wife and her sister, and they said it too, and then I noticed that occasionally Amanda’s brother says it, and I heard a couple of their old high school friends say it. So I now realize that this is a Western Suburb (Golden valley, Plymouth, Hopkins) thing of a particular generation. It probably spread among these folks in high school.
I don’t hear many people say “that makes me laugh” but I use the phrase myself in my writing. When I do, that means that I’m thinking of Stephanie. So now when you read my stuff, you’ll know that.
I mentioned all this to Lizzie, pointing out that she does not have any western Twin Cities mannerisms because she is from the eastern Twin Cities. As I said that, she was twirling the end of the single braid of brilliantly red hair that came down from her feathered head dress, which nicely complemented her shamanistic necklace and her home made little black dress. Then I thought … wow. Lizzie has no mannerisms. So that is the second unique characteristic that makes me think so highly of her. “Actually, I think all your mannerisms are from Berkeley, California. Have you ever lived there?” I asked her. “Not yet,” was her reply.3
There are a whole bunch of blogospheric expressions that have emerged fairly recently that invoke particular meaning for me. The phrase “to call one out” in one form or another is particularly annoying to me no matter who uses it because it invokes the idea of the self righteous judgmental twit who thinks it is his or her job to patrol the blosophere for people who say or do certain things (whether they really do or not), then drag those individuals into the public square for some kind of blogflogging. The negativity arises, of course, from the fact that the first twenty or so times I heard the expression, it was me that was getting “called out!”
“As it were” reminds me of an old friend who used that expression, with irony, all the time. The construction “it is doing” for the English habitual “it does” reminds me of two or three European friends and their semi-broken English. Walter Cronkite’s “And that’s the way it was” is almost identical to the Efe Pygmy expression that ends most short story segments. That makes me laugh.
Am I the only person who experiences mannerism flashbacks?
1It is of note that I am very rarely annoyed by anything anyone says on facebook. But I am often annoyed by comments on my blog. I suppose on facebook … well, those are my friends.
2This expression always makes me think of Terry Deacon.
3That was totally paraphrased.