I once laughed at the truth I found in a book of definitions and usages of American slang words. Under usages for the word "like," there was a description of the "like" filler insertion that works to convince the audience that the speaker isn't really intelligent or doesn't really read, even if it might appear that way based on the content of that speaker's words. Example:
"I think that's called, like, quantum physics, or something."
I've heard this sort of thing a lot. There are other words one can use to take whatever kind of edge off the words that might otherwise be there if the naked statement just hung in the air without its (for lack of a better description) edge taker-offers.
For example, I once heard a tough-looking guy on a bus say this to another tough-looking guy: "Nah, I try to be in town at Christmas, so I can watch my kids open presents and shit."
The thought of sharing the desire to watch his children open presents was simply too touchy-feely for such a tough guy. "And shit" proves that he's aware of this, definitely aware that tough guy number two is aware of it, and he finds a way to express something close to what he means while maintaining his position in the tough guy circle. It's a useful defense, a kind of survival instinct at work.
I experienced something like this when I went to get a haircut yesterday. My hairstylist was a young woman I'll call Amy, who was sweet, friendly, tan, beautiful, and somehow able to work on her feet all day in wedged espadrilles that matched her gorgeous summer dress. I think it would be safe to say that both man #1 and man #2 from one of my recent posts would have put Amy into the hottie category.
I had pretty much just arrived and she was about to get started on the wonderful aromatherapy scalp-massage shampoos they do at this particular hair salon. We started talking about t.v., and she was telling me how she doesn't watch it. Then she was about to tell me about a study she'd read on excessive t.v. watching and internet surfing and their connection to cognitive (in)abilities. Before she told me about this, she said, "I don't remember where I read this...I think it was some science magazine...I don't even know why I picked it up."
This wasn't said in the tone of somebody who just forgot where she read something. It was an apology of sorts. It also came across as an assurance to me that she wasn't really into this sort of thing, this reading thing, just in case I didn't approve of that kind of activity.
And I'm not making light of what she said. I can understand exactly where the inclination comes from. In fact, incredibly, a lot of people don't really approve of the whole reading thing, and I wondered how often Amy ends up dumbing herself down in order to keep inline with customers' expectations of her and her interests. Hair, right? That's what she's into.
I ended up having an interesting conversation with her, and I wondered what we'd have ended up talking about if I had responded to her science study with a shrug or a blank stare.
It's weird. You know most people do this to an extent. It's not always a matter of not wanting to appear smart or nerdy. Mostly it's just two people wanting to find out what common ground exists among them, then deciding to talk about that, because it's more fun to talk about things they can share than for one to just talk at the other. At least it is for most of us. There are plenty of exceptions that popped up in my mind as I was writing that.
I like the common ground; I usually seek it out, too. What I don't like the idea of is any person feeling the need to apologize for having feelings to share or for being intelligent.
That's just, like, so sad.