I was looking up the definition of the demonstrative pronoun this last week, and got a lesson in modern American slang. Gestures help with understanding just what this means in certain circles, but if you give it some thought, you will realize that the mean and the vulgar can be associated with anything, hijacking something as innocuous as a pronoun.
The first result when you Google “Define this” is Dictionary.com’s link, just one of 339,000,000 results in 0.6 seconds. I clicked on the link and must have knocked my mouse when I swiveled in my chair away from the screen. The window scrolled past the common definitions. Here’s where it landed.
Slang Noun: My penis.
What?! Did I type in the right search? Yes. This is Dictionary.com with its standard format, denoting the word, part of speech, and definition, neatly arranged with even a few sentence examples for the uninitiated like me. These (plural form of this, FYI) are instructive, especially with the word bailiffs for context and exclamation marks for tone. You can imagine a boy making the accompanying gesture to his brother, when he tells him, “Walk this, John!”
Well done, Doctors Kipfer and Chapman, authors of the cited source, The Dictionary of American Slang.
National Punctuation Day is September 24 – Who cares?
So I thought this would be a timely example of language and usage. Grammar, the mechanics of English, and punctuation have gone the way of the slide rule and hand-writing, relics of an earlier age. With word processing software, auto-correct, and social media, who cares?
I’d suggest effective use of language is more important than ever. Everyone should care. In a digital world, our interactions with others and our global reach require our writing to be more concise and clear than ever. Our co-workers, friends, and clients may never meet us in the physical world, but they will know us through our writing and skillful use of language, or lack of it. Indeed, that is all they may know of us.
Ever shrinking written communication is an art form. Think of flash fiction like the notable six word memoir, For sale: Baby shoes, never worn. But it gets shorter than that. Enter emoticons and photos, communication sans language. It’s a wonderful thing technology with tools like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Linked-In, and a seemingly infinite list of others which enable us to share on a grand social scale as we’ve never shared before.
But consider this. When there are fewer words, each word is more meaningful. Make them count. And each word tells; it says a lot about the author. Read the comments and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, or an article. In just one sentence, you will learn more about the author, her vocabulary, tone, diction, syntax.
In the digital age, a first impression often comes in the form of written communication. It may begin on social media, or with an Email, or a text, and at some future point, it will involve even more words. So learn to write a sentence well, making each word count. That’s a lifelong task even for the best writers, because the sentence is the building block for all other writing. With it, you can build the paragraph, the essay, the letter, the chapter, the novel, the thesis, anything you want really. (Link to On Writing & Orwell, Improve your writing with Orwell’s Six Rules)
Back to THIS
The word this can be used as a pronoun, an adjective, or an adverb. If we count today’s lesson and the word’s use as slang, it can also function as a noun. It is sometimes called a demonstrative pronoun and is one of the four demonstrative pronouns: this, that, these, and those.
Pronoun: This is my chair. Watch this!
Adjective: This chair belongs to me.
Adverb: this far, this softly
Plural form: These words say a lot about you.
Noun, slang, vulgar: Hey Vanessa, how about the bailiffs seize this?!
The pronoun is one of the eight parts of speech. Can you name all eight? **Answer below
** The parts of speech are noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb, verb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.