Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Unspoken Messages

Posted by Neal on June 6, 2011

In my last post, I talked about going out for dinner and a movie with the family. The movie was X-Men: First Class, and it was really good! Doug and I both liked how the plot mixed historical events with the fictional — and not just ordinary fictional events, but supernatural ones. Like reading the most satisfying books by Michael Crichton or Tim Powers, there are things you know are fact, and things you know are fiction, but some things straddle the line between plausibility and fantasy so well that you don’t know quite where the seam is. I learned somewhere that the literary name for this genre is low fantasy (as opposed to high fantasy, where the entire setting is made up). On a language-related note, you get to hear German, French, Spanish, and Russian spoken in the movie, in addition to English of course. But I’m pretty sure (as sure as I can be without actually fact-checking) that the adjective bad-ass didn’t exist in 1962.

Anyway, the way we happened to be on this night out is that last Thursday night, my wife was browsing the web while sipping her favorite after-work drink: club soda with cranberry juice and a big wedge of lime. As I was loading the dishwasher, she said, “Hey, they liked X-Men.”

“Who? EW?” I asked. I came over to the couch to look over her shoulder.

“‘James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are–‘” she began, handing me her empty tumbler. As I took it back to the dishwasher, she continued reading the review.

“So are you saying,” I asked, “that instead of Sunday night videos and homemade pizza, we should go have supper at Boston’s and then see X-Men at the Arena Grand? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?” (Friday night was out of the question, since Adam and I would be at the Cub Scout campout. More on that in the next post.)

“Wow, that’s quite a detailed message you’re getting there,” she said.

“Well, we’ve been married going on 15 years, so I’m pretty good at picking up on this stuff, you know.”



“Well, there’s one unspoken message that you didn’t pick up on.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

“I wasn’t giving you my glass to put in the dishwasher.”

I was confused. “Huh?”

She pointed toward the dishwasher where I had just loaded her glass with all the dirty dishes. “I wanted a refill.”

2 Responses to “Unspoken Messages”

  1. Ran said

    > […] the adjective bad-ass didn’t exist in 1962.

    Funnily enough, I was just looking this up the other day, and The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English gives it from 1955. (See <;.) But, I haven’t seen the movie; who uses that term? Partridge implies that it didn’t enter white usage until much later, so your point probably still stands.

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