The Old Man On The Mountain

A View From the Backwoods of NH

Speaking English

One of the most common phrases I hear when Americans are speaking to people from other countries that have come to America is “If you’re going to come here, learn to speak the language”. This is not an unreasonable request, in my opinion, because unlike most other foreign lands, very few Americans can speak anything other than English – and even then it’s sometimes hard to tell. Between Ebonics, the Southern Drawl, the Yankee Twang and slang in general, it’s hard to tell what IS English anymore. And then there’s all the “hand gestures” and “sounds” (like clicks and whistles) that, while mostly universal, can sometimes be confusing as well.

One of my pet peeves is the use of “One Off” versus “One Of”.

It is my firm belief that “One Off” is a phrase that was most likely created by some dolt with a hearing disorder, who was either powerful or popular, after hearing the phrase “One Of” to describe something unique . You know, like all those “Corporate” catch phrases the President or Chairman “create”, or what the “In” people say because, hey, who doesn’t want to be popular (you can find excellent examples in the movie “Mean Girls”).

“One Off” implies that there must be a two off or three off – but if there is, I’ve never heard it. Even Heinz 57 and Preparation H wouldn’t use the phrase “One Off” (Preparation H – it’s one off from preparation G). But “One Of”, well, that would imply that there’s a “Two Of” (like in “two of” a kind) – do you see what I’m getting at. But no matter how dumb it may sound, people that want to “fit in”, those that are afraid to stand up and speak out, keep propagating this stupid “one off” phrase until, one day, it makes it into the “common use” dictionary, along with a lame definition that’s supposed to justify it’s use.

I think any American that uses the “If you’re going to come here, learn to speak the language” phrase had better be sure that they themselves understand English. And that they enunciate clearly. This is another pet peeve of mine – what I call “the mumble drawl”. My kids used it all the time – instead of thinking about what they wanted to say and stating it so that another human could understand, it appeared that their true goal was to make sounds while using the least amount of mouth movement, and expecting people to understand them.

Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t understand a thing they said. And of course, when asked to repeat it, they would SHOUT it back at me, like I was hard of hearing, still using only the slightest of enunciation techniques. There was a time that I thought I was losing it, until I asked one of their friends one time “what did she say?” or “what did he say?” And, amazingly enough, all I got back was an “I don’t know” shoulder shrug. Which was when I realized, I wasn’t losing it. Nobody else understood them either – but you don’t ask “What?” if you want to be popular. And it looks like “One Off”, like “The Mumble Drawl”, is here to stay.