Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lorrie Moore is so awesome. Oh wait.

I'm reading A Gate at the Stairs, her new novel which is much loved by many critics, and rightly so.
The narrator is a college-student, and here's a characteristically sharp passage:

"'Awesome,' I said, in that peculiar way, I knew, our generation had of finding that everything either 'sucked' or was 'awesome.' We used awesome the way the British used brilliant; for anything at all. Perhaps, as with the British, it was a kind of antidepressant: inflated rhetoric to keep the sorry truth at bay."

Yesterday, we went to Parents' Night at the middle school. Isabel's 7th grade Language Arts teacher -- a peppy, veteran taskmaster who cowed even me -- told us about her list of "garbage" words that she absolutely does not want to see in her students' work. These  include "got," "stuff," and "said." 

"I don't want kids using words like this," she lectured.

"This is bullshit," I cried.

"No it's not!" she ejaculated. 

"Yes it is," shouted my husband.

That didn't really happen, of course. We're very meek, grateful parents. But I hate that rule. "Awesome" should be avoided; "said" is essential. 


  1. Awesome has its place, but it's specific, and loses its power when overused. I will continue to use it judiciously, garbage word or not.

    'Like' is the same way--it's imperative for a certain kind of tone in writing and speech, so I use it in those situations. And I'm happy about it.

    But I certainly adjust my expectations of a person when I hear them overusing awesome and like. And there are so many other garbage words and phrases--it's a symptom of laziness. It's just easier to dust off the phrases you've heard a frillion times than come up with something original and THINK OUT OF THE BOX. Grrr. I almost couldn't type that.

  2. Awesome should be used for volcanoes erupting before your eyes. Or sarcastically. Properly used, no word is garbage!
    Frillion. That's a good one.

  3. My middle school niece writes "text speak" and my inner crotchety old woman would lighten up with appropriate and correctly spelled occurrences of "got", "said" and "stuff".

    The word that currently puts my nose out of joint is "irregardless".

  4. Raising turkeys for Thanksgiving is a good thing - and economical; turkeys will eat what your chickens eat, just more. However, slaughtering a turkey is more difficult than slaughtering a chicken; and I doubt the technique your father employed on your rooster will work with the turkeys. By the time the turkeys will be ready to be harvested, they will be quite large, and strong - and proportionately less compliant than the rooster. When I faced this issue with our own turkeys, I realized before "doing the deed" I would have first to demobilize the beasts. This I did by delivering a quick blow to each turkey's head with a baseball bat. The turkeys fell to the ground unconscious; I cut off their heads with a hatchet, and then hung them by their feet to let the blood drain. The process of stunning the birds just took a second and they didn't show any sign of suffering.

    It's also harder to pluck a turkey than to pluck a chicken. You use the same technique, but you have pin feathers that must be extracted separately. The extra effort required to slaughter and pluck the turkeys is very worth while. Your reward will be the best tasting turkeys you have ever eaten. (Our turkeys were "Bronze". They looked very much like the one in the picture in your blog, but they weren't called "heritage" turkeys in my day.)

  5. I agree about "got" and "stuff" in writing, but sometimes "said" is exactly right and the best word to use. Agony is reading a paper in which the writer obviously used a thesaurus to replace perfectly precise words.

    But I don't mind "awesome" as slang any more than I mind "cool." Which is not at all.

  6. I can't believe I missed this post! Your invented dialog was awesome! Jr. High teachers who banish "said" are one of my pet peeves. Lorrie Moore is haunting me though. I run into her around every corner. It is probably time to read the book and exorcise her.