Every status update since the dawn of Thomas


Friday, 3 August 2012

Over-used words #2 and #3: Disgusting, Disappointed

#2: Disgusting

What it’s ‘sposed to mean: This thing fills me with a physical revulsion, nausea even – I recoil in queasy horror at it.

How it’s used: The ridiculous hyperbole of the impotently annoyed. Indignant people who are really quite miffed, but can’t do anything about it, will wheel this word out in an effort impress on you how really quite miffed they are, in the hope that you will give two shits and maybe do something; not realising that if they were nicer and more reasonable about it, maybe you would.

The mouldy, maggot-infested corpse of a squashed octopus is disgusting; entrails and vomit and smeared human poo is disgusting; if we’re going for the moral angle, human rights abuses by totalitarian governments are; perhaps the horrifying deviant behaviour of the sex pest or serial killer; perhaps violent misogyny or race-hate...

The fact that the council has not collected your bins for three weeks is not “disgusting”, really is it? Nor is the fact that the item you ordered has not arrived in 14 days, as the shop said it would, and will now be another two weeks. Nor is the fact that your letter of complaint was ignored, that your insurance won’t cover replacing your windscreen, that parking on your street is a problem, that you have to fork out more money than you expected to get your washing machine fixed, and pay for delivery. I think the word you’re looking for there is annoying. Really rather annoying. Like using the word “disgusting” to describe such things.

Worse things happen at sea.

#3: Disappointed

What it’s ‘sposed to mean: I feel a bit sad, deflated and let down that something or someone hasn’t met my expectations, or things did not turn out like I hoped.

How it’s used: Have been hearing this word a lot recently in place of “f***ing p***ed off”, “really bloody livid” or “massively un-chuffed”. It’s use in this way doesn’t annoy me much yet – I actually rather like the understatedness of it, and “I’m disappointed” is at least more accurate and emotionally honest than “It’s disgusting”.

But all the same there is something suspicious about using the word this way. Being sternly “disappointed” used to be the domain of parents and teachers; but management and PR types picked up on it and now this angry kind of usage seems to have made its way out to the unwashed masses, sometimes jarringly. A teenager recently told me she was “disappointed” that she had to pay a massive fine that she couldn’t afford just to get her own missing dog back – and hence may never see her beloved pet again. She was “disappointed” at the size of the fine. "Disappointed"? Really? Not “heartbroken”? Not “outraged”? Not “disgusted”? ...Maybe it was ludicrous Victorian-style understatement, but I suspect she’d just picked it up as the mature thing to say from some teacher at college, or middle-manager where she worked.

The reason “disappointed” may rub one up the wrong way is twofold:

It’s partly the pose it adopts – ie vague condescension. Telling someone you’re sternly “disappointed” with them does involve a bit of low-key power-play: You are staking your claim as the calm, professional, superior one whose reasonable expectations should have been met. This is flagrantly not the case with everyone who tells you they are “disappointed” through gritted teeth.

The second rankle is the pungent whiff of emotional blackmail that surrounds it – it says “I am a human being who is a bit upset about this”, and appeals, slightly passive-aggressively, to the bit of us that wants to please others, not cause upset, and be liked – which in the supposedly strictly-professional business workplace, for example, could be argued to be a bit underhand and inappropriate (even though that’s exactly the kind of motivation business workplaces rely on all the time in their underling staff).

While I admire the honesty of anyone who says they are “disappointed” when they genuinely are (I use the word a lot myself, my life is suffused with a constant background noise of the stuff), it’s often used in the knowledge that anyone, on being told someone is “disappointed” in them, will have an instant gut-flush of shame for a split-second before their brain kicks in and they remember they are not in school again or talking to a stern uncle. And actually they can say “Well, hang on a minute...”

The aloof understatement and passive-aggressive undertones of “I’m disappointed” are double-edged though – while they give the word its insidious power, like all understatement and passive-aggression it’s easy to ignore or brush off by the thick-skinned and hard of heart.

So, you’re disappointed. I’m sorry you feel that way, but boo hoo, and so what?