Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dead Language

By Julie Rahm

 I have recently returned from a visit to my childhood home in Southern California. It was my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. Indeed, fifty years of marriage is a very special achievement. My husband John tells everyone he’s been married thirty years, just not to the same woman. I don’t find that as amusing as he does.  Anyway, Southern California is quite different than Pamlico County. Most apparent is the population. My high school has well over 2,800 students. The cost and pace of life is also eye-opening. Life there is fast, expensive and impersonal. The culture is “cool”, aloof and detached. Technology is everywhere. It truly is a different world. However, one of the biggest differences between the worlds of Southern California and Pamlico County is the language. Obviously, citizens in both places speak English. And yes, Spanish is ever present in California. But, that is not my point. My point is that even though English is spoken in California, the language there is often “dead”. Using words combined with body language, people convey disinterest in engaging with each other.
For example, in California, instead of “you’re welcome” people often say “no problem”. When the implications of “no problem” are carefully considered, it is not a good substitute for “you’re welcome”.  “No problem” implies they are glad to be done with you. Or, the task was a problem. Or, they have significant problems and you do not. Or even, their interest is elsewhere. “No problem” is a problem. I prefer the plain old “you’re welcome”.
Another example of dead language is “Okay, Yeah or Sure”. Clearly, any individual using these words while working with a customer is not thinking about how speaking matters. These employees are interjecting dead language into their customer service interactions. Employers should cringe! Most offensive is when servers use these words. In an upscale setting, there is no place for “Okay, Yeah or Sure”.
Another dead language phrase is an insincere “My pleasure”, especially when repeated again and again! I encountered “my pleasure” responses at our hotel. Clearly, some under-informed hotel manager has taught their employees to parrot this response. “My pleasure” is a hollow phrase that translates to “now go away”.
As a last example, California servers share a cultural response when taking dinner selections. Often the response from servers is “excellent”. Most annoying is when “excellent” is uttered with the server looking elsewhere. It is just plain rude to gaze at other tables while mouthing “excellent” to your patrons.
In contrast to California, here in Pamlico County, dead language is rare. Folks here treat people like friends. We engage with each other in pleasant conversation and meaningful exchanges of thought. I find the abundant eye contact here in Pamlico County refreshing. And, I am thankful that dead language is scarce in Pamlico County.
Learn more at View my philanthropic efforts at, and download a free chapter of the Amazon Kindle bestseller, Military Kids Speak.

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