Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Solid...really solid.

I got into the elevator at the courthouse yesterday. Since I was the person closest to the buttons, I was the unofficial button puncher, "Floors?" I asked the assembled crowd. In the opposite corner stood a nice-looking young man, dressed in a uniform with his name on it, obviously a technician working on the electricity or air conditioning or something else in the building that needed fixing. I have great admiration for people who can fix things, especially machines...the same sort of respect I have for mathematicians or anyone, for that matter, whose job requires technical skill. All Greek to me. I glanced over at him to get his floor number, and that's when he said it! "Do me a solid, and press 6." Do me a solid? Did he just say, "Do...me...a...solid?" What is "a solid?" Okay, sure, I understood what he meant. Press the button for 6. Right. I got it. What intrigued me was why he didn't just say, "Please press 6," or "Do me a favor and press 6," or just plain "6." So, "Do me a solid" wasn't a time saver. What was he really saying?

Did the nice fellow on the elevator even realize what "do me a solid" sounds like? "Come on, sweetie. Do a solid for Mommy," the young mother urged her child during potty training. Or, "Darling, please change the baby. I think he just did us a solid."

He was in the elevator, in a very conservative setting, with a bunch of old fogies, myself included, who probably never expected they would ever be called upon to "do a solid." A quick glance at the graying, paunchy, teetering old folks wearing uncomfortable suits and comfortable shoes, standing shoulder to shoulder in the elevator, would be a dead giveaway to even the most casual observer that not one of these doddering relics had ever in their entire lives done anyone a solid. Had we been alone, I would have asked this nice young man, "Why the lingo?" (Do we still use the word, lingo?) Granted, English is a difficult language. For instance, why do we pronounce iron i'-ern, but pronounce ironic i-ron'-ik? It doesn't make much sense, does it? It is, nevertheless, a beautiful language. The language of Dickens, and of Shakespeare, and most of all of Dr. Seuss...I mean, seriously, you can't beat, "Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You." Had I asked him, he might have said he was just being "himmer than him." Is it too much to ask that the Mother Tongue be preserved - somehow?

When I was young, my mother tried to keep me from using "dirty" words by telling me that people who used swear words were showing that they didn't have a better one in their vocabulary. I don't really buy that anymore. Although I use cussing sparingly, there are times when the profane word is the perfect one for the situation. But what about slang? And why does it bother me so much? I cannot imagine the young man in the elevator going to a job interview and asking a prospective employer to "do him a solid" and expecting a favorable outcome. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe I am the one who is out of step. Perhaps I should have just smiled and said to him, "I'm bout it, dude. Fo shizzle."


  1. I laughed out loud at that last sentence. I was curious about how many previously "slang" words and phrases have become standard usage, and I found some interesting stuff here:
    It seems that the majority of slang does not stay with us long term, but some slang words and phrases become standard usage, such as blizzard, okay, peter out, jazz, handout, cop, and makeup. Who knows. Maybe twenty years from now we'll all be saying "Hey, could you do me a solid?" But somehow I doubt it. :)

  2. You're hilarious. Between this and Mister Litlove, my mood has measurably improved. Thank you, Grad!

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  4. Janell, thanks for the website. I've got to check it out for future ammunition! I'd love to shock a youngster with a snappy comeback...and watch the shocked look!

    Di, making you smile has made me day. And I mean that 'fo shizzle.'

  5. Oh, that was grand. I have never heard that particular slang before. I find slang to be interesting and fun though incomprehensible at times. I saw a PBS program on slang once and it talked about how groups of people use slang to define and differentiate themselves from the larger group of society. The way language works and how people use it never ceases to amaze me.

  6. Hilarious! And I wonder what on earth he meant? I've been turning the phrase back and forth in my mind and cannot find a causal relation with... well, anything. It's a common problem for translators when they come across literary works full of slang - to translate into the slang of the era or the slang of common parlance? It's a tricky one, and either dates fast or looks peculiar. Well, I look forward to the next post in which you try the phrase out in different contexts, Grad! ;)

  7. I mentioned this to my husband the other day and he said he's heard this lots of times from family especially from the NY area. I looked it up in the urban dictionary:


    They don't have origins, but it was used in a 1991 Seinfeld episode and in the movie Juno.

  8. Stefanie, no kidding? I loved Juno. I'll have to watch it again and keep my ears open. The phrase is actually very Juno-esque.