There are so many phrases to irritate the ear (see a much earlier posting on Jargon) that it seems a bit hard to pick on a few this morning, but they really are getting on my wick.
Firstly, a pair of phrases, which seem to have been transported from sport (from participants? from spectators?), and which are often heard in tandem. They are ‘Come on!’ and ‘Get in!’. This isn’t the idle, louche and intellectually dissatisfied ‘Come on’ of interviewers like Jeremy Paxman, used to indicate extreme fed-upness with the sloppy thinking of his adversaries. And it isn’t the excited, follow-me-quickly phrase of a child on an adventure. Or the soothing ‘Come on’ of the teacher or the parent, which is really a version of ‘There, there, it will be all right.’
No, this ‘Come on’, and its pal, ‘Get in’, are masculine exclamations, spoken in the height of something competitive, and spoken at a volume out of all proportion to the context, usually by the speaker to himself, but loudly enough to let everyone for several miles around know that he is pumped-up and ready for potential victory, even if that victory is in some doubt. There, I think I’ve defined it. It is the verbal equivalent of that nasty little clench of the fist adopted by Tim Henman in his many failed attempts to win Wimbledon, and taken over by Andy Murray, who looks as if he actually might win Wimbledon. I just seem to hear the pair – the phrases, not the tennis-players – everywhere. Cod-macho nonsense.
The other phrase is not a phrase but a word. Just one word, but now as rife in common conversation (especially when the speaker is at work in some capacity, including making pronouncements on television) as acne in teenagers, or the word ‘like’ in the conversations of the same. It’s an adverb used as an intensifier, but it’s now slipped ahead of ‘Yes’ as a way of affirming that the proposition put by the previous speaker is to be agreed with. And it has also wormed its way up my nose.
Ask anyone if x or y is their opinion at the moment, and you are as likely to get the answer ‘Absolutely’ as any other. It seems to have slipped into everyday conversation for the old fashioned reason that it has four syllables, whereas ‘Yes’ has one, and it therefore possesses the twin qualities of a-little-bit-of-posh and also buys the speaker a few nano-seconds of thinking time. It also seems to contain a compliment to the addressee, a compliment that his or her suggestion is much to be feted, is of considerable intelligence, even particular brilliance. How it irritates me! I would give it an anti-social behaviour order, or ASBO (which might make it Asbolutely, I suppose).
But you know for sure why the word has got under my skin, if I am as bothered by it as this. It’s because (hangs head, bangs head), I have caught myself saying it. Without thinking. Absolutely.