Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Taking issue

What the bottom of the page of the magazine tells me is that William T. McClay is the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma. That's impressive stuff. I haven't a clue exactly what discipline "the History of Liberty" is cataloged under, but I'm sure, somewhere along the line, Professor McClay, via his acute observations, earned the right to occupy the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in its eminent domain. Seriously.

Still, I think one day last month or last year, he just woke up cranky. In the latest issue of The Hedgehog Review, he takes issue, you might say, with the ubiquitous usage of the word "issues," even tying it somehow to the post-modern world he experiences around him--somewhat negatively, I might add.

You know what he's talking about--people saying to others, "Well, to say the least, my old friend Sasquatch has issues." What we mean to say when we employ that expression is that there's some weakness we'd rather not disclose about old Sasquatch, something pertinent but not particularly suited to public consumption (wink, wink) for whatever reason.

But the usage doesn't simply extend to others; some of us say it of ourselves. "Of course, you must understand that I have issues with Representative _______ (kindly affix your most unfavorite politician). Or this, something more to the point of Professor McClay's lively little essay:  "I wasn't there--maybe I should have been. But I was having some issues with. . ."

Professor McClay gets all huffy because, he says, that worn expression is simply meant to obfuscate, to avoid the truth, because in this day and age--and here's where he gets a little snarky--it's far more politically correct not to affix blame, not to be specific, not to address significant weaknesses or "problems" (he talks about the usage of the word problems, too, by the way, just in case you have a problem with that).

Oddly enough I remember hearing "she has some issues" for the first time from a student at least a decade ago, and I remember the moment because I thought the usage was (sorry) quite cool but strictly age-sensitive, meaning probably not to be included within the working vocabulary of someone her professor's age (meaning me). You know, I just thought "have some issues" is something "young people" said, not old farts. Still, I liked it, in part because it sort of fit with a slight role of the eyes and tip of the head she gave me when she used the phrase: she looked at me sideways and grimaced just a hair. "Well, you know that so-and-so has some issues, don't you?"

It was sufficiently droll to be cool, right? It carried, back then, some freshness.

Now that phrase is at least a decade old, and my grandson was using it a couple years ago already in third grade, it's lost some currency.

McClay, from his padded chair at the U. of O., implies it is something of a symbol of our cultural demise (he'd probably not like me saying that, by the way). But I think, one day he just woke up cranky. Fresh usages always mature into crumpled old hats. Sparkling metaphors morph, over time, into cliche. When vivid new assessments get overused, we call them caricature. What's new gets old.

There may be other reasons why our culture is souring or dying on the vine. There are likely good reasons to claim that America isn't what it was or even is. It's not particularly difficult thees days--and it never is--to be a prophet of doom.

Take it from an old fart.

Honestly, I don't think I've ever used the phrase because I thought it belonged to that student who used it in my presence for the first time; today, it belongs to my grandson, too, who's now in sixth grade. 

Being retired, I'm too old for a real mid-life crisis; but lots of old fogies take dance lessons, right? Most of the men on motorcycles these days are bald or gray beneath those biker hair bands.  Maybe I'll use it here for the first time, about me and Professor McClay. 

Here goes:  "Professor McClay's interesting article in The Hedgehog Review caught my attention, but I have. . ."

Can't do it. Fill it in for me, with you please?

I've really got a problem with that line.  


Anonymous said...

"but I have" tissues, I could not say it either.

Ronald Polinder said...

I do like that list that comes out every year of overused words. I have no problem with adding "issues" to it. Another one I am so weary of: excited, or exciting--"I am so excited about the appt of so and so to this new position...." Way too much is "exciting" these days, or decades, because that goes back a ways.

Just to needle you, another one for the list? "Old Farts." :)

J. C. Schaap said...

Okay, okay, no more--maybe. . .