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"Shut up!" - Part 1

There are many ways to tell someone to shut up. Some of them are polite, for example, “one moment, please”. Some are brusque: “be quiet”, or “hold your tongue”. Others are rude, but colourful: “button it”, “put a sock in it”, “shut your gob”, “shut your cakehole”, and, last but not least, “stop your jaw”.


If you have ever sat on a bus full of teenage schoolchildren, you will have been tempted to use one or more of these expressions.


A couple of years ago, teenagers on buses were using a British version of “Valley Speak”: “I’m like “duh?”, and she’s like “hello?”, and I’m like “puhlease”, and she’s like “talk to the hand”, and I’m like “whatever”. But that’s all gone. Now, in addition to using slang such as “sket”, “buff” and so on, they are talking in a mixture of catch phrases from two comedy shows: “yeah but, no but, yeah, but am I bovvered? Look at my face - is this a bothered face? Yeah but no.”


Discussing this with a wiser and more patient friend, I complained that, not only is teen-speak irritating, it is also completely devoid of content. No actual information is imparted. Nor is this empty speech confined to teenagers. Elderly people can also burble on for ages saying things like, “Well, she says to me, she says, eee, and I says to her I says, by ‘eck, and she says to me, she says, you never, and I says to her I says….”. At the end of the exchange they are none the wiser. So what is the point? If you’ve nothing to say, why not keep quiet?


“Aha”, said my wiser, more patient friend, “aha” being the sort of thing wise people say. He went on to say that, though far too old for teenage slang, I was still too young to be curmudgeonly and should nip this tendency in the bud. Furthermore, I was missing the point. The purpose of such seemingly empty speech is not to impart information at all. It is merely to say, “You are my friend. I am your friend. We like each other.” In other words, the speakers are establishing or maintaining a rapport. (There is probably a word for this, beginning with “meta-“, but I believe that words beginning with “meta-“ should be used sparingly, so I won’t bother trying to remember it.)


Fair enough, I thought. Having nothing to say doesn’t mean you should keep quiet.


Shortly afterwards, I was to change my mind.


To be continued…