The Scarlet Letter N

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A public service announcement, because it is long overdue:

The word “really,” as a comeback, is not witty. It is not funny, nor wry, nor ironic, nor even pleasant to hear, as people seem to insist on delivering it with a pinched nasal whine.

I’ve noticed people using it lately as an expression of incredulity, like so:

“And my boss said I’d have to come in early, and I said Really?”

Listen. This is not a bon mot. It is not a stinging rejoinder. It is not in any wise clever, though I suppose I understand why people would think so, as audience members always seem to respond to this zinger with an ironic little laugh. (Except for me. I am the audience member responding with stony silence.)

I have been needing to get that off my chest for at least a year.

I am not opposed to the vernacular, and in fact have been known to embrace it, especially when it comes to the fine art of vulgar language. Sometimes it is cathartic to dispense with carefully-reasoned discourse in favor of naughty words. In other cases it is literally imperative. I find myself completely unable to mention the Tea Party without modifying it with “fucking.” I relish the precision of my de rigueur oral speech as much as I relish the liberating thrill of swearing like a sailor. I also enjoy peppering my speech with idioms and cliches and other casual contrivances.

It’s just irritating to hear a perfectly banal word being bandied about as though it were witty repartee.

This is, of course, a losing battle. Despite my PSA, delivered absolutely gratis, no strings attached, my chances of positively effecting change are approximately zero– less than zero, actually, if we’re being honest. I suspect my high-handed culture lesson will piss off at least one person, who will then retaliate by incorporating “really” into his or her personal arsenal of comedic one-liners.

My little rant here is symptomatic of my complete inability to hold a casual conversation. Two recent examples:

Gentleman at bar: So what are you doing here?
Me: Frankly, I’d rather be reading.
Gentleman: Reading?
Me: You know. Like with a book.
Gentleman: Ah. [Pause.] Literacy is important.
Me: …..

(Honestly. What was I supposed to say?)

Different gentleman at same bar: Can I dance with you?
Me: Good grief, you haven’t even spoken to me. How do you know I’m not an crack addict or a fascist or someone who kicks puppies?
Gentleman: Uh…
Me, relenting slightly: Sorry, sorry, I just get tetchy when people try to hit on me without even hearing two words come out of my mouth. Try again. Tell me something about yourself.
Gentleman, puffing up chest: I like death metal!
Me [aside]: Oh, that’s just precious.
[Aloud]: Try listening to baroque sometime.
Gentleman: “Broke”?
Me: Ba-roque. Style of classical music. Listen for the consistent rhythms and precise meters.
Gentleman: Uh…

And this, of course, is symptomatic of my complete inability to hang out in bars. I get really rankled when people try to assess me based on how I look, which rather misses the point of bars: you’re supposed to go there and sit about looking attractive and acting approachable, two key points of bar-hopping that always escape my mind. Nerding it up is unlikely to win you any points, which is difficult for me, as I cannot seem to open my mouth without searing a giant red letter N on my chest.

Ah well. It’s nearing bedtime now, so I’m going to go do some reading. You know. Like with a book.

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2 responses »

  1. eleemosynary archivist

    One supposes that the denizens of the establishment(s) to which you refer are not easily engaged in Zelda Fitzgerald style colloquies on current affairs or cross-cultural interaction, but are there no bars frequented by a regular clientele actually seek intellectual exchange on a,pardon the pun, sober level? There must be folks who imbibe and realize the joys of conversation with a good looking dame whose brainy self assurance attracts interest. But that might be the view of an old codger who"don't get around much anymore"..

    Reply
  2. the lesbrarian

    I have not discovered any of these establishments in Virginia. Had better luck back when I went bar-hopping in Asheville and RTP, two locations that had a more intellectual and progressive atmosphere than the blandly commercial Hampton roads area. The coffee shops are every bit as disappointing, I should add.This is why I don't normally go to bars. I'm looking for the sort of Paris salon where artsy ex-pat writers hang out, but I'm doing it in the wrong location and possibly century.

    Reply

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