Less Verbal Top Hat, More Verbal Hankerchief
February 17, 2011 7:05 AM   Subscribe

I want some new verbal affectations or expressions that I can use to express my personality without looking either anachronistic or a jackass.

So, here's the deal: I want to up my conversational game a little bit. I've started saying "Salud" when toasting, and I like it a whole lot: I like the history and culture behind the expression (as an ex-suburban white kid, I don't have a lot of either), I like that it shows a certain warmth and affection for the people around me, and I mostly like how planned it feels. I'd like to do this sort of thing more often, with more conversational phrases. However, I realize this has the potential to become real douchy real fast, either because it looks way too old-fashioned or because anything done too much becomes less genuine. So, help me walk the tightrope.

What are some things you say or family / friends say to wish happiness or acknowledge affection for their friends or colleagues? What's the history behind the particular expression, and why does it resonate for you? In particular, I'd like something to say at Hello and Goodbye time that isn't Hello and Goodbye. Thanks!
posted by l33tpolicywonk to Human Relations (62 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
posted by jbickers at 7:07 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you need to be careful here that it doesn't come across as pseudy or affected - if you toast with 'Salud' but are not a French speaker, it does sound a wee bit silly.

Having said that, I'm not in the slightest bit Jamaican and I like 'vexed'. I've also found myself saying 'blimey' a lot recently, but this will sound odd if you don't have an English accent.
posted by mippy at 7:08 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh - a friend and I started saying 'see you anon' because it cracked us up when we heard some old ladies saying it, and we were studying Shakespeare at the time.
posted by mippy at 7:09 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I know a white ex-suburban guy who says "Salud" when we toast and, sorry, it already comes across as douchey. He also always says "Gezundheit" instead of "bless you" and, again, it comes off as affected and trying too hard. Everyone sort-of rolls their eyes and him and are like, "Yeah, we get it, you know foreign words and think they sound cool."

For some reason it comes off as far more natural and less annoying when someone who grew up saying those things says them, when they're a family tradition even if it's a "white ex-suburban guy" saying them. I don't know how you can tell, but you can tell.

You can certainly say things like, "It was SO good to see you" in place of goodbye, but it sounds like you're going for things that are much more affected than that, replacing genuine expressions of feeling with imported, impressive-sounding words or phrases.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:13 AM on February 17, 2011 [16 favorites]

I accidentally started saying "take care" instead of "take it easy" or "have a good one" a few days ago. It just slipped out, but I like it, so I've put it in regular rotation for the time being.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:13 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is the kind of thing that I think it'd be best to let develop organically. Anything you deliberately adopt in the interest of "being distinctive" is going to end up feeling fake to you after a while, and will sound fake to others before that point.

Instead, over the course of time you'll come across things that other people say, or you and your friends will come up with your own stuff, and that'll strike you because it genuinely resonated with you, and you'll adopt it for that reason instead -- and because of this, it will much more accurately "reflect your personality," because you are using it out of genuine interest in the phrase.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:14 AM on February 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think you just need to find the right terms that "fit" for you. They don't have to be foreign words in some affected accent, they could just be little inside jokes to make a friend laugh.

Some of my friends who are Lost fans will say goodbye as, "See you in another life, brother," though that is becoming less timely.

Being Star Trek fans, we also use the Klingon word "Q'APLA!"... well, whenever we feel like it, but sometimes for hello/goodbye/good luck.

I think the key to using a silly or unusual phrase in conversation is to have a sarcastic or self-deprecating manner and to smile to acknowledge it's silly but you're just trying to make the audience laugh.

As mippy said, any Shakespearian phrase would go over pretty well with the right crowd.
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:18 AM on February 17, 2011

Have you thought of wearing a pocket watch? I kid, I kid...

Seriously, the advice to take it slowly on stuff like this is worth paying attention to. I have always found "cheers" and "ciao" to be really affected and not at all worldly. Think about it -- would you start bowing or putting your hands to your heart? These things are culturally situated for a reason.
posted by proj at 7:18 AM on February 17, 2011

I usually stick with Sláinte as a toast. But I've always liked "here's to crime," as per Sam Spade.

But yeah ---- this feels to me like one of those things where if you're planning ahead all these clever little aperçus and filigrees, you've already crossed over into pretentious dbag territory. If you happen to pick up a bit of slang or an unusual phrase in your travels through life and use 'em when they fit because you think their neat and they naturally come to you, that's one thing, but any deliberateness in the endeavor ruins the attempted affect. Like Mr. Collins' compliments in Pride & Prejudice ---- people thought this type of thing was douchy 200 years ago.
posted by Diablevert at 7:22 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

if you toast with 'Salud' but are not a French speaker, it does sound a wee bit silly.

Indeed, since it's from the Spanish. (A French speaker would use "Santé!"; "Salud!" [or "乾杯"] would be affected). Affectations will make you look affected.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:24 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you've already crossed over to the dark side. Affectations always come across as...affectations.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:26 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm one of those people that says "gesundheit", and I use for two reasons. First, it's not religious (as an atheist, saying "Bless you!" to people feels weird to me). Second, there's no comparable word or phrase in English. I picked it up after living in Germany and never got rid of it when I returned.

I will also say "No worries!" to people instead of "It's ok" or "It doesn't matter". I had a teacher that used the phrase constantly and it just stuck with me. Can be used a response to any apology or explanation - "Sorry we're late" - "No worries!". "Unfortunately, we only have the red one in stock." - "No worries!"
posted by backseatpilot at 7:36 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As a white suburban guy with few notable ethnic roots, try to avoid stealing too far afield. Try folksy American ruralisms, dated corny lines that are not too self-aggrandizing, and self-conscious film line lifting. Here's mud in your eye! Down the hatch! May the wings of Liberty never lose a feather!
posted by LucretiusJones at 7:38 AM on February 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

Only say "cheers" when toasting, or maybe serving a drink as a bartender. I've heard it around my campus as a sort of farewell, and it just never sounds right.

I do like and use "Gesundheit" however. As an atheist, saying "bless you" just sounds weird the more one reflects on it. To my knowledge, "Gesundheit" is used to wish good health to the other person and doesn't have the same religious underpinnings.
posted by Homo economicus at 7:38 AM on February 17, 2011

(Well, those are all drinking examples. But you get the idea.)
posted by LucretiusJones at 7:39 AM on February 17, 2011

Response by poster: Alright, thread, message received loud and clear.

Still, I've got some lingering issues. The big one is the "goodbye" thing. In principle, I like the idea of wishing someone well with some content attached - I genuinely want to wish people good health, or good luck. It's not for douchy reasons. I promise. I already use backseatpilot's "No worries" and it feels really comfortable. I like being funny, but I'm looking for a baseline sincerity here.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:41 AM on February 17, 2011

Response by poster: LucretiusJones: ". Try folksy American ruralisms, dated corny lines that are not too self-aggrandizing, and self-conscious film line lifting."

YES. Examples of this, please.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:42 AM on February 17, 2011

Isn't "goodbye" a contracted "God be with you" anyway? Why can't you say something like, "Bye -- have a great week" or "I'll see you next month, I hope your mother feels better" or "I miss you already! I hate going!" ... why can't you actually express those things you want to express, specific to the person and situation, rather than looking for a stock phrase?

(Sometimes when friends are going off to do something difficult and annoying I'll call after them, jokingly, "Come back with your shield or on it!" Especially to lawyers heading into court. But I think I'm funnier than they think I am.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:46 AM on February 17, 2011

I am all in favor of everyday language becoming less boring. I have a friend (a white suburban guy, no less) who pulls off 1920s-1940s language ("swell", "gentleman caller", "and how") successfully. But only because his love of the era is deep and sincere and has blossomed into a full-immersion lifestyle -- his clothing, furniture, decor, career and interests are all vintage. I guess the take-away message is that any affectation can become authenticity if you're willing to run with it.
posted by stuck on an island at 8:00 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're thinking about it or planning for it, it's an affectation and will sound like it. If it comes naturally, it'll sound natural.

"Salud" in your case is already probably way over the line -- it reads as "I've traveled in Europe, or I'm trying to pretend that I have;" absent any other evidence of worldliness it strongly implies the latter. Though since you say you "mostly like how planned it feels" then you're apparently pretty much okay with that: pre-planned phrases used with the intent of sounding interesting or unusual are exactly what affectations are.

If you really want to up your conversational game, I'd suggest reading a lot of quality books in the genre of your choice -- I know after I spend some time immersed in a particular literary style I catch reflections of it coming out in my own speech and writing.
posted by ook at 8:01 AM on February 17, 2011

Heh, I use "come back with your shield or on it!" too, but I'm a classics dork. So.

Affectations are affectations, even if you're using affectations on purpose. As a white sub-urban kid you have, in fact, plenty of history and culture to draw from. Do you think you were born of a culture-less environment? Do you think you have no history? Or are you looking for eclectic or "ethnic" culture? If that's the case, you're already half way to douche kingdom and galloping fast.

Also, I am an atheist and I happily say "bless you". I also say "goddamnit," "Jesus Christ!" and all other manners of blasphemous things. Verbal expressions need not be tied to their original - in this case religious - meaning, or we'd all be invoking Norse gods every time we talk about what day it is.

My advice? Read a lot. Use phrases from books you like, quote poetry, whatever inspires you. Don't do it because you want to be different, though. That way lies, well, affectation and douchebaggery.
posted by lydhre at 8:04 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Having said that, I'm not in the slightest bit Jamaican and I like 'vexed'.

Huh. This is the first I've heard of any particular Jamaican association with vexed. I thought it was more of a Southern thing (not to mention Shakespearean). I occasionally tell my almost-two-year-old, when he's being non-cooperative "You vex me something fierce!" I also tell my daughter that "my will is iron and cannot be shaken." And when she reaches for food on my plate, I paraphrase the Bible to say "you are my beloved daughter, and everything I have is yours." Likewise, when she gets upset, thinking that we're going to leave her alone, I say "I shall never leave you nor forsake you, even unto the end of the age." Now that I think about it, I'm leaving my kids with a really unusual idea of how parents talk. But I was immersed in Biblical studies for so long that those lines just kind of fall out on their own.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:15 AM on February 17, 2011 [9 favorites]

Indeed, since it's from the Spanish.

Ah, well, you see, we never drank during our A-levels.
posted by mippy at 8:21 AM on February 17, 2011

Best answer: "Cheers" for toasts, because I'm not Irish or German or Spanish or Italian or Chinese and a toast is supposed to be from the heart. Off-the-cuff. Your natural you. Anything else is dishonest.

"Thanks" for thanks, but occasionally "Cheers" when my intended meaning is Thanks and have a nice day.

"Have a good one" for have a nice day.

"Take care" for see you later.

"No worries" for no problem because no problem quickly devolves into no prob which sounds so painfully Valley to my ears.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:23 AM on February 17, 2011

My Danish/German white suburban family says geshundteit and uses "skol!" for toasts.
posted by electroboy at 8:29 AM on February 17, 2011

Best answer: I'm a girl, so I think I can get away with some of these more easily, but in an effort to curb my out of control cursing, I've been using a lot of "oh dear", "my goodness", "holy cow", and "shoot". It's not nearly as satisfying, but at least I can react with sounding like a sailor.

As for "goodbye" why not just use ""goodbye?" You'd be unique amongst all the laters, byes, and see yas.

As for toasts, I usually toast to the reason we're all gathered, which often ends up "to good friends". Easy and not jarring to the ears.
posted by cecic at 8:37 AM on February 17, 2011

I've always been a fan of "Cin Cin!" for a toast.

I've started saying "BRILLIANT!" and "SHINEY!" in a bad British accent jokingly instead of "AWESOME!" but that's only because my boss is British and it cracks me up. :P

I also like to jokingly using old silly sayings such as "tomfoolery".
posted by floweredfish at 9:05 AM on February 17, 2011

Best answer: "Go well" for goodbye.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:12 AM on February 17, 2011

Best answer: af·fec·ta·tion/ˌafekˈtāSHən/Noun
1. Behavior, speech, or writing that is artificial and designed to impress.
2. A studied display of real or pretended feeling

That doesn't mean you have to "prove up" your cultural roots in order to use certain words or phrases. Some people might say "cheers" because they heard it once and liked it. Not really an affectation. As opposed to saying it because you want to be seen as someone who says that kind of thing. That's an affectation.

Showing off your personality means being unafraid to present who you really are. Not picking things off a list that you think will seem impressive. Although people who do that usually DO inadvertently show who they are: posers. You recognize this by not wanting to seem douchey.

We all do it to some extent. The more often, the more phoney.

Not sure what you meant by "it seems planned". A good toast should be genuine and spontaneous. I mean, some people might give you points for remembering to think of a good toast. But that would be countered by a feeling of "jeez, we are just at dinner, kinda creepy that he was sitting around thinking of things to say". Hemming and hawing might be dopey, but it is real.
posted by gjc at 9:16 AM on February 17, 2011

Maybe it's because I live in a college town, but "No worries!" always make me think of frat boys and I cringe whenever I slip and say it.

It seems to carry an implied "bro!" at the end of it.

I am only one man, but I am always most impressed by substance over style. You seem to be looking for the opposite. The true metric of being a good conversationalist, I believe, is coming up with something interesting and unique to say on the spot, and tailored to your situation. More difficult? Yes. More impressive? Yes.

In my opinion, the phrases themselves are not what make this behavior douchey---it's the desire to be perceived as a cooler without actually doing anything to make yourself truly a cooler person.

Same amount of cool, just with catchphrases. Like bad sitcoms.
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:17 AM on February 17, 2011

Best answer: Personally, I like for my little ritual phrases like this to be true, if you know what I mean.

For cheers, I generally just make eye contact with whoever I'm cheersing with.

Goodbyes vary, but if I'm leaving a new acquaintance or someone I don't see often I'll say "I hope I see you soon." If it's true, that is. Otherwise "later" is, I think, my default.

A suggestion slightly out of left field: People seem to like it when I have occasion to tell someone (usually a pet) to "beat it."
posted by cmoj at 9:18 AM on February 17, 2011

I do agree with TheRedArmy. I once dated someone who quoted Family Guy all the time in lieu of saying things of his own, and it was really bloody annoying. Inventing a catchphrase is like inventing a nickname - they do need to happen organically.
posted by mippy at 9:26 AM on February 17, 2011

My little verbal tics are mostly borne out of working retail for far too long. I use "Absolutely!" all the time, because that was the way a manager liked his sales clerks to respond affirmatively to customers. I find it's a bit different when someone's making a request, and they like to hear it.

Similarly, I say, "Fantastic!" and "Terrific!" when I hear good news, which is a bit peppier than most of the people I know. I find that being a bit more verbally positive (if not positive by nature) makes people smile when I talk to them.
posted by xingcat at 9:28 AM on February 17, 2011

Ciao is the most international goodbye you can get without coming off as a dork. It gets used in all sorts of (European) languages.

As an apatheist with bad allergies, I want to nth the repeated suggestions of Gesundheit. On the other hand you should be aware that "chin chin" is a slang word for penis in Japanese, though the French regularly use it for toasts. Know your audience, is all.
posted by whatzit at 9:42 AM on February 17, 2011

I don't have any suggestions for alternatives to hello and goodbye for you, but would generally agree with others here, that whatever you say, shouldn't strike the person on the receiving end as "unnatural" to your personality.

Other than that, i'm mostly struck at how sensitive others here are to what they perceive to be "douche-y" expressions, which I think are normal. After someone says "gezundheit" to me, I've NEVER thought that they were trying to sound cultured - it's just an alternative to "bless you." Similarly, i've heard "salud" or "cheers" used many times at dinner or at a bar, and they don't sound out of place to me at all. Sometimes I'll say "adios" instead of "bye"... and I really don't think that people think I'm bragging about my Spanish skills!
posted by see_change at 9:44 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Salud" also functions as "Gesundheit" for Hispanics. People may not know what it means, but they never bat an eye when I say it: It's just another way of acknowledging a sneeze, I guess. I'm going to second "no worries:" I find it is the most easy-going, non-contentious acknowledgement of *anything*, good or bad, that people say to me on the phone. Can you hold? "No worries"; . Another one I really like is "bloody," as an intensifier rather than damn or f***; it can offend religious people, since it refers to the blood of Christ, but most people don't categorize it as a true 4-letter word. It certainly lets me get my feelings out, but it doesn't feel as crude to me as what I really want to say.
posted by Ys at 10:02 AM on February 17, 2011

I'm mostly with see_change. I like the idea of "cheers" to end emails - except I realized I hate all the people who do it. Perhaps it is the affectation business.

I'd like to implore you - and everyone else, especially white people over 20 - to avoid "that's how I roll."

At the end of the day, good grammar is far more impressive than anything mentioned here. Also more novel these days.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:07 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had no idea "gesundheit" sounded "cultured" to anyone. I say it because it's how I was raised. I wasn't raised on the Schrute farm, either.

Try reading books from cultures other than your own. If you really fall in love with something, it'll seep in.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:10 AM on February 17, 2011

While not a toast, if someone asks "How are you?", I usually repsond

"Finer than frog hair!"
posted by timsteil at 10:13 AM on February 17, 2011

I grew up saying "Gesundheit!" because my mother learned it from her mother, and her mother grew up speaking German at home. Considering how many Americans have some German ancestry, the idea that people would see it as affected is surprising.

As an adult I made a conscious choice to continue saying it rather than "Bless you" because it occurred to me that the sneezer might not be religious, and Gesundheit is decidedly secular.

I associate "No worries" with Ozzies for some reason, and since I like Australians generally I'm not bothered by it at all.

Because I have a toddler at home who parrots back everything that comes out of my mouth, I've become partial to the word "Fiddlesticks!"
posted by ambrosia at 10:39 AM on February 17, 2011

"Considering how many Americans have some German ancestry, the idea that people would see it as affected is surprising."

Man, I'm feeling defensive about my gesundheit comment here. It's not the word itself; it was the specific person using it, for whom it was clearly an affectation designed to draw attention and make him seem cultured/worldly. I've heard plenty of people say it plenty of other times, and it doesn't strike me as jarring or affected, except when it's affected. (Incidentally, when people are TRYING to be religious about their sneeze statements, they usually make a point of saying "GOD bless you" instead of just "bless you," which sounds pretty affected too, I think. It's like, "Oh, no, America took the God out of sneezing responses! I blame the Supreme Court!")

There are people who say "Prost!" or "Good on ya, mate!" or "Aloha" or "duuuuuuude" and it sounds totally normal. And there are people who say those things and you just cringe. It's not the word, it's the user. I'm sort-of sorry for giving that example now, because gesundheit is a very normal thing to say in the U.S. and plenty of people use it unselfconsciously and without affectation. This particular guy did not. I honestly kind-of hate sneezing in front of him because I have to listen to his self-congratulatory "GeSUNDheit!" every time I do. It fills me with grar.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:53 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Eyebrows McGee, you have no idea how much restraint it took for me not to immediately post "No worries!"

Clarification understood. It's not the word, it's the speaker.
posted by ambrosia at 11:03 AM on February 17, 2011

Best answer: Call your male friends "gents" and your significant other "darling." Try replacing "great" or "cool" with "wonderful" or "terrific." Substitute "unfortunate" for "bad." Refer to the night as "evening." Say "I'm famished" or "I could eat a horse" instead of "I'm hungry." Say "take care," "be well," or "so long" instead of "goodbye." Say "greetings" instead of "hello."

A lot of these are on that borderline where delivery is key. If you say them pompously they'll fall apart, but they should flow evenly if you're casual about it.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:27 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I hate "no worries.". I know it's really no different from "no problem," but a former coworker used to say it all the time and I always wanted to retort, "I didn't really care enough to worry." It's just a personal thing, but but I feel like it assumes the other person gives a crap, and I usually didn't when apologizing to that woman.

Anywho, I spent a lot of time in France, and found myself saying "pardon" a lot when I came back, instead of excuse me. I like it. It's short and not as apologetic. But anything that doesn't come naturally will reek of pretense.

I am trying to break myself of the odd habit of saying "hi there" when I pass a colleague in the hall at work....
posted by Francophilex at 11:33 AM on February 17, 2011

First, white people have history and culture just like everyone else. You get privilege from belonging to the dominant culture, including the ability to assume that your culture is just "how things are". Please consider this issue as you seek to add interesting elements to your speech. This also goes for American regionalisms - hearing a Southern drawl/expression used as shorthand for ignorance/laziness ires me.

Also, I think you need to be comfortable with feeling a little ridiculous as you organically acquire your catchphrases. You are saying things that some people may not understand or may ask questions about. Be prepared to explain yourself once in a while and drop phrases that don't work out.

self-congratulatory "GeSUNDheit!"
You are actually supposed to say "gesundheit" fiercely, because you are berating the object's health for leaving them susceptible to illness. I flat out yell it when some of my coworkers sneeze, and they seem to find it charming-quirky. YMWV.
posted by momus_window at 11:37 AM on February 17, 2011

*raises suspicious looking glass of brown liquid*
Slanje va!
*drinks aforementioned liquid*
posted by dougrayrankin at 11:42 AM on February 17, 2011

Best answer: I'm kind of mean, but when my good friends sneeze I tell them it's rude to nose fart in public. "Quit nose farting!" It may not be as nice as 'god bless', but it acknowledges the sneeze and gets them to laugh and that's the whole point.

For goodbye I've used toodleoo, TTFN, tallyho, 'have fun, don't die', and I had a friend who liked saying, "Well, I'm off like a prom dress," which always made me chuckle.

I'm super fond of howdy instead of hello, because it's so dorky. Also, I like westerns. It works best if you have a belt you can hook your thumbs into, like a pseudo gunfighter.

I know a guy who has a lot of affectations and favorite quotes and though it initially seems interesting, people soon peg him for a douche. I also know a guy who just likes to say odd things and quote lines and he comes off as clever. I think the difference is that affectation-guy seems to be applying a formula to every interaction. Situation A + mention of topic B = response C. It's like the positive attention he got from the first use of a phrase is like cocaine and he keeps pressing that button in hopes he'll get another hit. After knowing him for some time, I can predict his exact responses to particular situations. Sometimes when there's even a vague impression that a situation matches up, he fires off his standard salvo and it can be attention-whorish, express the wrong sentiment, or be plain nonsensical. Clever-guy, on the other hand, works pretty hard to weave in subtle little nods to things that add extra layers to the joke. He just says odd things because he's playing with words and references he finds interesting - like he's got in-jokes with himself. Clever-guy also lets other people have their clever moments and doesn't hog the conversation spotlight.

In related notes, I like Dos Equis' The Most Interesting Man In The World character, who is a total affectation, and yet fascinating ...
posted by griselda at 12:22 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't do this unless it's not an affectation.

Some endearing NON-AFFECTATION conversational quirks of friends:

I have this one friend who calls just about everyone by somewhat antiquated terms of endearment, like "love", "dahhhhling", or my favorite, "kitten". She's also likely to use endearments like, "You're such a doll".

Another friend says "Oh My Land" instead of "Oh My God", "Holy Shnikeys", or whatever. It's super midwestern and adorable. That said, if she did it because she was religious and didn't believe in taking the Lord's name in vain, I would think it was silly. This sort of thing heavily relies on one's personality and ability to pull it off without being a chump.

A few coworkers of mine (I work in the entertainment industry) play on our line of work by using Hollyweird cliches like calling everyone babe or using "love your work" in lieu of "thanks", and "have your people call my people" in lieu of "call me" or "just let me know". This only works because of the field we work in, though. And the wrong person doing it could sound really obnoxious.
posted by Sara C. at 12:33 PM on February 17, 2011

Liz Lemon goes for the ridiculous exclamations like "By the hammer of Thor!"
posted by electroboy at 12:49 PM on February 17, 2011

Speaking of which, I will officially cop to stealing "Blerg!" and "I want to go to there" from Thirty Rock. Though I didn't do it consciously to spice up my repertoire of exclamations. I just watch too much TV.
posted by Sara C. at 12:57 PM on February 17, 2011

This question is vaguely absurd. But: maybe you should read more. A lot more. Expand your vocabulary. At some point, cool words will wend their way into your vocabulary without you even really trying. And then when you speak, what you say will be extra descriptive and stuff. Hooray!
posted by vivid postcard at 1:11 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

vivid postcard has it. Don't cast around for affectations--get to know and love something and you will naturally use the idioms that go with it.

Since working on the Big Civil War Novel, I find myself using lots of mid-19th-century US slang. Not because I'm trying to be retro, just because it's in my head.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:42 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like the history and culture behind the expression (as an ex-suburban white kid, I don't have a lot of either).

Yes, you do have a lot of culture and history. You're just naturalizing and neutralizing your position (white suburban=neutral). You're also exotiziting the Other. Your culture is so strong that created, exported, influenced, and even supressed many cultures around the world -- in terms of food habits, language, dress, films, literature, mores, religion, law, etc. It affected the American landscape to such extent that one cannot fathom the US devoid of its cities, rural areas, and suburbs in its current configuration, for better or worse. Your culture is not only rich and strong -- it's dominant. That's why it's possible to neutralize it.

Now, when you go about your project, remember that once a member of subaltern culture adopts traits of the dominant culture, she's being "assimilated," or "acculturated." But when a member of the dominant culture adopts traits of subaltern cultures, often their acts are seen as "appropriation" and are considered either in bad taste or plain stealing (BTW, I don't agree with this interpretation, but be aware that many people do - see Eminem).

This is a mine field, but I am in favour of people playing with it. A lot. Iconoclastically. For example, if you you're straight, I'd suggest that you adopt gay slang or language typically used by women. In my view, it would be a great subversive way to show that you are a feminist (in case you are, naturally! Just ignore me if you are not).

Have fun!
posted by TheGoodBlood at 2:32 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

"For example, if you you're straight, I'd suggest that you adopt gay slang or language typically used by women"

This is more of a minefield than you think. It could come across as very stereotypical, as confusing (are/aren't they?), dated (gay men don't tend to speak in Polari these days) or weird and offensive. At best, you end up sounding like Tim Westwood, and nobody wants that.
posted by mippy at 2:55 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

mippy, i agree. but iconoclast is confusing and weird and often offensive. also subversive. not for everybody. i was also trying to exemplify the mines in that field.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 3:01 PM on February 17, 2011

I also agree with vivid postcard. The only way I know of to become genuinely inventive in your language is to read. As others here have noted, there's something paradoxical in deliberately trying to cultivate a personality; so simply assimilating odd phrases with the intention adding style seems unlikely to work.
posted by Maxa at 3:11 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I occasionally say 'hiya' rather than hello-

For goodbyes I often say 'have a good week/afternoon/evening' or a heartfelt 'nice seeing you' with a hug/cheek kiss.

i dunno, i guess those are pretty standard.
posted by abirdinthehand at 4:54 PM on February 17, 2011

The only civilized way to bid friends goodbye is, "Love you, love your hair, hope you win."
posted by cyndigo at 11:15 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

You know, I think you could satisfy this itch to express yourself in a unique but ritualistic way by learning another language. When I speak Spanish, it just feels fun to speak -- to learn all the greetings and farewells, to plan out silly things to say, and to learn slang, cliches, metaphors and old-fashioned sayings. Every time I get to say one of these phrases it feels cool not only to be expressing myself in the grammar and syntax of another language, but also tapping into a culture's diction and usage. And I don't know, I just feel sort of ... friendlier when I speak Spanish.

So for instance, today I got home from my jog and some Ecuadorian workers at my building were cleaning out the garage and there was a ton of trash. So I said to them, "!Ay, que CANTIDAD de basura!!" and we all laughed. I also like to chat with the cleaning lady at work and say silly exaggerated things about the bad weather, like "!Que lastima!" "!Que barbaridad!" And when I remember obscure vocabulary on the spot in conversation (like the word for "butcher") I feel very satisfied.
posted by yarly at 7:25 AM on February 18, 2011

The only way I know of to become genuinely inventive in your language is to read.

Reading is one way. The other way… the better way… is travel. Actual human interaction with foreign people in foreign lands. Give the stolen phrases you hear authenticity through direct experience.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:20 AM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Likewise rules
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:32 PM on February 19, 2011

Or just go to thrift stores and buy old Reader's Digest magazines and peruse the More Picturesque Speech column. Bless your heart.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:15 PM on February 22, 2011

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