The Heedless Overuse of Certain Words: Definitely

An ongoing concern of mine is the mangling and perversion of the English language by those who do not think before they speak. It's alarming and unsettling how commonly and naturally people are lulled into a sense of verbal complacency. I refer generally to many things here as they pertain to spoken English, but one of them is overuse of words as symptomatic of a corroded verbal culture. I don't believe that the chronic overuse of particular words is a product of limited brain function, but rather the result of an environment in which words are simply not valued for their communicative power. This leads to words being sapped of strength and meaning, and in this way,  spoken communication can be rendered not only lifeless but purposeless.

A concrete example of what I'm referring to can be seen in the heedless overuse of the word "definitely."

Before I begin, I should point out that the case of the word "definitely" is very possibly localized to California and/or the West Coast.  I have lived other places, and I do not hear the word used elsewhere in the same sense that it is typically used in this region.

What I mean to talk about is the word "definitely" being used to indicate unnecessary emphasis that, when thus applied, comes off as somewhere between disingenuous and dishonest:

"We should definitely get together."

"I'll definitely try to be there."

"We definitely loved your performance art!"

Or, simply, and most commonly:

"Yeah, definitely!"

The false emphasis of "definitely" is a linguistic perversion of the most insidious kind.  What is insidious about it is the fact that the word is used to mean something that is virtually the opposite of what it should normally indicate.  "Definitely" does not mean "with certainty," but rather something closer to: "I would like to bring about some positive personal transaction, but really can't be bothered to do so in a genuine way, so I'll just insert this emphatic word that indicates intentions that I'd like you, the listener, to perceive."

The use of "definitely" in this sense isn't restricted to socially awkward teens or self-absorbed college kids. It's used by older adults. It's used by "'professionals." It's used by people old enough to know better.

In the case of "definitely," and in many others, the multi-layered nature of its misuse isn't just an affront to some idealized notion of linguistic felicity.  By using "definitely" to mean the equivalent of "almost definitely not," we offend each other. We insult our auditors' intelligence, and degrade our individual ability to communicate - because o
nce we stop thinking about and meaning what we say, we cease to be ourselves entirely.

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