The not uncommon refrain, “Have a nice day!“, is I have learned as fraught with subtext and innuendo as the equally clichéd though often punishing retort, “Good for you!” On the one hand each of the phrases captures a putative sincerity; but as often they chronicle an underlying lack of interest and even sometimes malice. Seldom is either of the idioms expressive of any compelling desire of the author of the rhetorically gratifying locution. On the other hand, the constructions amount to a standard societal punctuation of an anticipated favourability usually subsequent to a commercial transaction or relationship. But overall the utterances are as meaningless as air. At best they indicate a lack of linguistic novelty; at worse they are a subterfuge. They may further signify an entire disregard.
Words have meaning, obviously. Other than professionally however our use of them is normally not designed to be either instructive, dynamic or poetic. Consequently we tend to prevaricate – not necessarily to be evasive or hedge but maybe just to pussyfoot or duck the issue. Insisting upon meaningful dialogue is hopeful but unlikely. The retailing of words is generally limited to written text and at times the comments from world leaders. It would as well likely be considered either overbearing, ostentatious or outright preposterous to communicate with learned syntax, grammar and vocabulary in mind.
Certainly there are exceptions but they tend to encompass those who are exceedingly well read or who delight as did Oscar Wilde in “art for art’s sake“, the inherent obfuscation and entertainment of language. It is regrettably a domain reserved for few. Often those who embrace the amusement of language lapse unwittingly into repetition and performance which thereby diminishes the import. Soon language dissolves to the base level of raw and rude material. The universal limits upon usage are I am certain disheartening.
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of the most popular playwrights in London in the early 1890s. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the circumstances of his criminal conviction for gross indecency for consensual homosexual acts in “one of the first celebrity trials”, imprisonment, and early death from meningitis at age 46.
An epigram is a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement. The word is derived from the Greek ἐπίγραμμα epigramma“inscription” from ἐπιγράφειν epigraphein “to write on, to inscribe”, and the literary device has been employed for over two millennia.
The presence of wit or sarcasm tends to distinguish non-poetic epigrams from aphorisms and adages, which tend to lack those qualities.
The funniest turn of phrase I have heard is the one employed by a vociferous Nellie in Key West years ago. He was I believe recalling an unsuccessful late night encounter with a cowboy at a leather bar on Duval Street. The abrupt relation ended with him spouting, “Well fuck you and the horse you came in on!” It constitutes an enterprising use of vernacular and metaphor. It is certainly more inventive that the Hansard report of the House of Commons, “Some Honourable Members: Oh, oh, oh!” although both successfully capture the intended communication.
The dichotomous alternative to verbal witticism is silence. Its critical use can indeed be pithy. It is not however my preference for two reasons; one, my imperative is always exactness; and, two, it conveys a sense of superiority to rise above the need to answer others. In addition there is something to be said for a record of the narrative whether particularly clever or not. Oddly my personal absorption with words evolves more from the act than the conclusion; that is, more the writing than the reading. This affinity corresponds with my love of playing the piano. Both the written and sonic performances are themselves the goal not the subsequent assessment of them.
But when it comes to repartee between two or more people, the strength of that enterprise is important. This ultimately depends upon what I once heard was the one word of advice an old man would give to a young man, “Well“, he said, “I have three words of advice: read, read and read!”