http://www.flickr.com/photos/amodiovalerioverde/

“Whatever” is a bad word

The little things in life matter

My ears wrankle when I hear someone I know and care about speak the word-fashion that emerged around 2010 or so, “whatever.” This is not a garden-variety verbal filler like, umm & er. Nor is it a multipurpose word to substitute for whatever a person can’t remember the name of (thingy, whatsit, youknow, whatcha macallit).

Emblazoned in ALL CAPS across a stone guard mounted at the leading edge of a big tractor trailer’s hood was the expression, “WHATEVER.” Supposing that this big vehicle crowded your rearview mirror in all its chrome glory and ground shaking bulk. When a person ejaculates “WHATEVER” it may be to indicate they are clever, ironic (seeing oneself in the verbal exchange and imagining one-upmanship when blurting it out), or flippant.

However, on the receiving end of this comment comes a bucket of cold water: it feels like anything you have said, and by extension everything you stand for and “are,” gets discounted, discarded, and run over. A translator might weigh the term and give the gist to his or her foreign language readers to mean something like, “Just shut up, because I don’t care what you have to say, or who you think you are. So only my words matter here.” Or a shorter translation might me, “I disrespect you, so get out of my way.”

For comedians this “WHATEVER” interjection, sometimes loosed as a Parthian Shot (or parting shot, as we moderns say), may work to stir up an audience by pulling on the strings of disrespect (Rodney Dangerfield cried that he never got any), violating expectations and norms, or up-ending propriety. But among people whom we know and care about, this verbal explosion is a bad word.