Signature Words

    My friend Tim’s is “look”.
“Look, if the government defaults—big deal, who hasn’t?”
“Look, I just saw the new Tom Hanks movie and I still say Bosom Buddies was his best work.”
“Look, just because a guy likes the feel of ladies’ underwear more than mens’, it doesn’t make him weird, am I right?”

      * These are merely “example quotes” and not necessarily verbatim remarks actually made by Tim.

    Suffice it to say, easily 50% of Tim’s sentences begin with a command to direct my attention to what’s about to follow. Now, Tim’s an interesting guy and chances are pretty fair that I’d afford him that courtesy anyway, plus you never know when he might spill some embarrassing underwear comment, so basically, all the exhortations for me to “look” simply add to the word count and run the risk of making him sound bossy.

    I find that I’ve gone through a number of phases regarding the multitudinous “looks”.

      1) Discovery. “Wow, I never noticed how much Tim says ‘Look’ !”
      2) Analysis. “Wow, Tim said ‘Look’ 46 times in a 5 minute conversation, a net increase by a factor of 2.67 over last week’s data.”
      3) Acceptance. “Wow, I hardly noticed how much Tim said ‘Look’ today!”
      4) Self-doubt. “Wow, a true friend would probably tell Tim to stop saying ‘Look’ all the time.”
    But let’s move on from poor, afflicted Tim and have a look at some other signature words.

    First, a couple of classics I’m sure you’ve experienced: “man” and “yo”. “Man” and “yo” abusers, more commonly male, employ these chestnuts ostensibly to let their grammar freak flags fly or to suggest mad street cred. They can be observed in a wide variety of settings, from the barrio to the ‘burbs, from the ‘hood to the hills. It should be noted that these two examples are so rampant in certain subcultures that their status as signature words may be open to debate. If you know half a dozen people who go through life “man-ing” and “yo-ing” up a storm, it’s not much of a signature, now is it?
    Another distressingly common one is the adjective “fuckin’”, including all the fuckin’ bastardizations like “freakin’”, “flippin’”, frickin’”, “friggin’” and “flabobbin’”. Full disclosure: I admit stooping to using the intensifier “fuckin’”-- or on more family-friendly occasions, the not-as-intensifier “freakin’”-- but so far I have employed vocabulary and restraint enough to avoid being tagged as “the F-word guy”.
    In my view, signature words can include phrases. My friend, Diane, has one she interjects to perverse excess: “on certain levels”. That non-modifier makes an appearance in about a third of her pronouncements. On certain levels it sounds a tad professorial, and on certain other levels it makes me grind my teeth.
    Perhaps the oddest signature word I’ve encountered was from a guy I heard speak in LA in the 80’s. He was a manager of Vegas acts and he looked right out of Central Casting: powder blue suit, gold chains, creepy burnt sienna tan… His word was “timmy”. It was an adjective in his usage, and a very unflattering one, judging by the context and the derisive tone in his delivery. “These timmy jerkoffs in their timmy suits come here singing their timmy little songs...”. The sheer volume of indiscriminate timmy-slinging was quite impressive in a weird flabobbin’ sort of way. Never before or since have I heard anyone or anything described as “timmy”. Now that’s a signature.
    I’ve briefly considered adopting a unique signature word of my own—a word no one else would consider. I weighed “verily” as an option (“Verily, I would like fries with that, thank you”).
    I had a flirtation with “boo-yah” (“A Nigerian businessman wants to give me 5 million dollars—Boo-yah!”).
    And I road-tested “Well spank me raw!” (“Well spank me raw if that isn’t the cutest little kitty on the whole dang Internet!”).

Thankfully, when all was said, and said again, I decided to be a man without a verbal signature.