Sunday, October 19, 2008

The new flip-flop

A new suffix has crept into our family lexicon, and I wonder if it’s indicative of a greater trend – our national reluctance to take a firm stand on just about anything anymore. Our new suffix is “ish” and it’s quite handy for getting one off the hook. For example, consider the difference in meaning between:
- I’ll be there at 8:00 and I’ll be there at 8-ish. You’ve instantly gained at least 20 minutes of cushion, so you don’t really have to have your act together to leave on time, after all. Or, more realistically, I’ll be home at 11 or I’ll be home at 11-ish. Who’s now in charge of the curfew? The non-able-to-commit teen!
- I’m hungry (Let’s get lunch, now!) and I’m hungry-ish (I could eat, unless you’d rather not, and in that case, I can totally skip lunch and do what you want to do.)
- He’s hot (he’s the one for me) and He’s hot-ish (I think he’s cute, but if you think he isn’t I can easily back out of my opinion).

To make things worse, “ish” is often employed after a slight delay and searching-for-approval glance. It’s even able to stand alone, away from the verb it modifies. For example:
Teen: “I’m done with my homework.” (scans Mom’s face to see if she believes)
Mom: raises eyebrow and gives a stern look.
Teen: “ish.” (turns off the Gilmore Girls episode she has seen at least 15 times and slinks back to the books).

My concern with “ish” is that it goes against one of my core principles – say what you mean and mean what you say. One could see that it’s quite handy but I’m afraid that it’s making us somewhat lazy and selfish, and also more concerned with other’s opinions than our own.

Will I be banning ish from my girls’ vocabulary? Probably not. But, I will be on ish-alert, and I’ll be sure to challenge them to say what they really mean the first time, and be confident in their own opinions regardless of how they may be received.


  1. Sharp observation, but too bad "ish" isn't just for teens. Mostly it comes up in the context of being on time and honoring commitments. Fortunately, I haven't yet heard it as a stand alone word.

  2. I think that's where the grownups get lazy -- not thinking about the person on the other end who now needs to be prepared for you to arrive within a 20 minute window. You would never show up for a job interview at 8-ish!