Seventies-speak

Disco Ball Sarah from Brizzzzzle, UK

“People did not speak in the 1970s as they had spoken before. Our language, even if we tried to resist the current tendencies, inevitably reflected the jargon of the period. This emerged from business, politics, and, above all, psychotherapy; regionally, the major source of seventies-speak was California, which now dominates the verbal language of the western world in the same way that it has, for a century or so, dominated our visual imagination. Some notes, for a future historian, on how we spoke as the 1970s drew to a close.

Different strokes for different folks:   Possibly the most odious of all 1970s expressions, implying, as it does, both an imitation down-home corniness and a phony urban sophistication. It means that some people like one thing, some another. Once used by the mayor of Toronto to suggest that body-rub parlours are okay.

Impact:  Its use as a verb was characteristic of the 1970s, as in ‘This will impact negatively on our sales picture.’

Hopefully: The most misused word of the 1970s, as in ‘Hopefully, we’ll have a good turnout for the rally.’ This is wrong, but the people who know it’s wrong are almost extinct. The correct use is in a sentence such as ‘He spoke hopefully,’ meaning he spoke with hope. No one says this anymore.

I could care less: In the past, there was an expression, ‘I could not care less,’ meaning, ‘I don’t care at all.’ Somehow, the 1970s transmuted this into ‘I could care less,’ which doesn’t mean anything at all. No one can explain how this happened, and there is not way to stop it.

Head: In the 1950s a nice fellow was described as ‘a good head.’ The 1960s brought us a ‘head shop,’ which is where you brought has pipes. In the 1970s ‘head’ came into wider use: ‘This is where my head is at’ came to mean, roughly, that this is the way one was thinking. ‘Head space’ meant a mood, or a perspective on things, but as the 1970s closed it was fading fast. Don’t try to use it in the 1980s.

Lifestyle: The word was first used by a disciple of Sigmund Freud in Vienna, but it did not achieve widespread currency until this decade. Now it can be used in literally any sentence describing one’s existence. ‘I have a basically yoga lifestyle.’ ‘My lifestyle is that of an IBM executive.’ It became the most-used word of the 1970s because it was the most democratic. Not everyone can afford a Jacuzzi or even a pair of cross-country skis, but the poorest of us can claim to have a lifestyle.

I know where you’re coming from: A leading California import. It means the same as ‘I understand you,’ but it implies profound depths of empathy.

Handling it very well: As the 1970s ground on, ‘cope, and ‘coping’ began to seem archaic. It was no longer enough, if your wife suddenly left you with three kids under five, to tell your friends that you were coping. So you learned to say, ‘I’m handling it very well.’ If a true 1970s person were to find himself the victim of a hydrogen bomb attack, he would explain that he was handling it very well.

Into: It was strong in the 1960s, but it was a gigantic force in the 1970s. To be ‘into’ something can mean obsessed by it, or involved with it, or simply interested in it. As in ‘I’m into Mozart,’ or ‘I’m really into mustard.’

At this point in time: Possibly the most flagrant word-waster of the 1970s, ‘in time’ is totally redundant. In the Watergate hearings many witnesses found they were unable to recall something ‘At this point in time.’ Half of the people listening thought this sounded silly, but the other half thought it sounded impressive and began using it whenever they could fit it in.”

Farewell to the 70s, Edited by Anna Porter & Marjorie Harris, A Discovery Book, 1979.

Photograph: Sarah from Brizzzzzle, UK

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