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In Other Words / Linguistically challenged -- just a 'smidge'

Published 6:02 am, Friday, August 23, 2013
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Until a short time ago, I never knew that "summer" was a verb. I always thought "summer" was a common noun that conjured up halcyon days of peaceful bliss. I learned differentlywhen I sat with friends at a trendy Manhattan restaurant and overheard a conversation between two women at the next table discussing their vacation plans.

"Neil and I are summering on Nantucket," one told the other. "It's THE place to va-cay."

I was so stunned by this abuse of the latest in vogue-grammatical protocol that I could hardly consume my chilled cucumber soup with a "smidge" of dill. Yes, that's what the server said: "a `smidge' of dill will accompany the soup."

I was willing to overlook the "smidge" but "summering on Nantucket" was more than I could bear. I must have grimaced, because my two lunch companions asked me why I seemed distracted

"I didn't know that `summer' was a verb," I confessed.

"Of course it is," one said.

"When did that happen?" I asked.

"When people started `summering,' " the other told me.

Realizing not to mess with these New York aficionados, who had succumbed to the latest vocab-a-babble. I kept quiet and continued eavesdropping.

"Yes, Neil and I snagged a bungalow for August and September."

"Snagged?" "Bungalow?" "Va-cay?" What happened to "rent," "house," and "vacation?"

" `Renting a house,' is no longer an acceptable term," my friend said. "It's become passe. And, no one says `vacation' It's so last decade."

"Really?" I countered. "I'm so out of the loop."

"No worries," they said. "You're among friends. Your faux pas are safe with us."

Most of my "normal" friends and I communicate differently. We call a word a word, refusing to subject ourselves to the au courant lingo of the moment. For example: "Want to grab a bite?" someone will ask. "Sure," I say, name the time and place." No fuss. No muss. It is just lunch after all. But now, people "do lunch" and they "do it" in the grand style at some pretentious restaurant where the servers use words like "excellent," "no problem," and "smidge."

As I sat there straining to hear all about Neil and their Nantucket va-cay, I grew increasingly discouraged. I had lost my ability to communicate properly and promptly learned that I, a dinosaur, was doing it all wrong.

And, I discovered more about other matters, too: Apparently, there's a difference between beauty shops and hair salons, and that hairdressers are stylists and receptionists are social engineers. You don't go for a haircut. You're put on a waiting list to be coiffed, and squeezed in for a mani-pedi, and, "we're fully committed" is what the maƮtre d' will tell you when you can't procure a table.

Even hypochondriacs have gotten into the act. A cold is no longer a cold. It bit the dust a while ago. A sneeze is now a sinus infection. A productive cough means bronchitis, and the two symptoms together add up to the flu.

The other day, a friend called to discuss her latest state-of-the-art disease du jour. Her week isn't complete without a few rare though stylish symptoms to make life interesting.

She phones regularly to tell me she's experiencing strange sensations in parts of her anatomy that classify as TMI (too much information).

"It's probably just a virus," I console, brushing her off, and trying to change the subject.

But she wasn't buying. "You're not minimizing my ailments, are you?" she asked, because my doctor said that it could be something important. In fact, I'm having a CT scan, MRI and a full workup by the biggest and the best."

And, she added. "Did you know that depression is the new black?"

I was embarrassed to admit, I didn't.

"You obviously need to get with the program," she said.

"You obviously need a va-cay, a bungalow in Nantucket, and a smidge of psychotherapy," I told her.

Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.