In 1983 a low budget unremarkable film starring a young Nicholas Cage came out called Valley Girl. The movie was supposed to be about a rich girl meets poor boy from other side of tracks romance full of teenage angst and social pressures. The movie’s unexpected legacy has been a change in the way America speaks.
The Valley Girl character was a materialistic middle class girl from the San Fernando Valley in California who spoke in a semi-literate slang using useless and over used words such as “like”, “whatever”, “way”, “as if”, “totally” and “duh” among others peppered throughout the dialogue with little or no regard for proper English usage or grammar. At the time audiences (except, presumably, other valley girls who spoke that way) found the language absurd and laughable.
Just as terms from the 1960s and 1970s drug culture came to permeate American slang (such as bummer, far out, trippin’, etc.) the Valley Girl gibberish quickly worked its way into American conversation. Even American presidents, beginning most notably with George W. Bush, began to use these terms. The first time I heard Bush start a sentence with “Like” I did a double take. Did a college educated president actually say “like” just as a valley girl would? Sure enough he did, and he used similar air-head language on a number of occasions. Despite that many were not surprised that Bush would say anything air-headed, it marked a major change in the way we speak.
English speakers from outside the US have long noted how peppered our conversations are with slang and misuse of the language and it is no secret that typical Americans have a far smaller and less eloquent vocabulary than our cousins in most of the Commonwealth nations. Valley girl speak however has been a noticeable further deterioration of our language.
It has become out of fashion in the US to speak with precision, eloquence and proper diction. This is a sad thing. We communicate with others through speech in hopes that we can convey our thoughts with accuracy and meaning. The more accurate, precise and organized that speech is the more effectively we are at conveying what we intend to convey.
American speech has increasingly not only become lazy and filled with vague or even meaningless slang there also had been gravitation toward fewer words that convey less information. That is a larger subject than today’s post can cover so we will revisit that another time.
For today I must lament the constant deterioration of our speech because as we use more vague or meaningless slang we are less and less precise in what we say, it lacks any eloquence and it reduces our ability to communicate effectively and accurately. This is not a good thing.
At the very least one would hope that our leaders would strive to speak with proper English and with precision. But in many instances they no longer do. Whether it is an effort to fit into the “norm” to appeal to voters or whether it is because conversational language has so universally deteriorated it is hard to say.
Had you interviewed the first audiences of the movie Valley Girl when they came out of the theaters back in 1983 and asked them if they thought that nearly everyone, including the President of the United States, would someday talk just like the air-headed characters in that movie, the response would have been incredulity.
And yet, it has come to pass. Like, you know, totally, it’s how we like speak now.
A sorry state of affairs.
Wishing you success and prosperity,
Daniel R. Murphy
Helping People Learn to Build Wealth
Daniel R. Murphy
Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.