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I’m about at my saturation point with the phrase “Oh my God.” It’s not just that the phrase uses God’s name in vain, which it does. It’s that you hear the phrase repeated endlessly everyday. It’s like people don’t know other ways to talk.

When did our culture’s vocabulary skills slip so precipitously that the only—the only—way people on the street, at work, or on film and TV know how to express emotion is to say “Oh my God”?

Certainly scriptwriters have lost all sense of proportion or creativity. They seemingly don’t know how to write words their characters can say to demonstrate surprise, anger, fear, frustration, or a host of other strong emotions without saying “Oh my God” not once but four and five times. Really, are there no other words and phrases in the English language capable of communicating strong emotions? Would Shakespeare be Shakespeare if he’d gotten into a similar rut of repetitive base vocabulary?

Years ago one of my favorite television programs was “Magnum P.I.” I liked the program, and I liked the star Tom Selleck then and now. What I didn’t like and found egregious and grating was how the show crafted the Jonathan Higgins character played by John Hillerman. Higgins was the estate “major domo.” Ostensibly, he ran things. He was OK, even funny, but as the show aged the Higgins character was given a principal epithet. Remember? At first Higgins would just spit out a resounding “Oh my God” and that was the end of it. But in later episodes, the camera zoomed in for a facial close-up and Higgins would intone “Oh…my…GOD” slowly and with great exclamation. I guess the producers thought this was a grand addition to the character and show. For me it was just an example of the producers’ lacking common sense and their writers lacking verbal ingenuity.

Now I hear “Oh my God” from store clerks and flight attendants. I hear it from people interviewed by news media. Political leaders, certainly entertainers and sports figures (Tiger Woods with variations of the phrase on air at The Masters), comedians of course, characters in sit-coms including children, overheard mothers at Walmart, and used-to-be-buttoned-up news anchors all weigh in with “Oh my God,” morning show or primetime. I hear this phrase from old and young, professionals of all types, and, inexplicably, at times even clergy (Pastors and some Southerners have their own adaptation; they say “Oh Lord” or “Oh Lordy.”)

Now we’re not just hearing it; we’re seeing or reading it. OMG is online chat-speak for “Oh my God.” It’s an acronym, but it’s used the same way as the phrase. I see it on Facebook and Twitter nearly everyday. I read it in wall posts or tweets written by people who I know claim religious faith. What does this mean? Are they oblivious? Do they not care?

I see it in comic strips. “Luann,” for example, uses this version: “Oh my Gaww.”

Meanwhile, the English language remains rich and varied. The number of words in the English language is estimated at 750,000 to over 900,000 distinct terms. Don’t you suppose we could find words, other than “Oh my God,” for expressing our emotions?

The answer to the question is, of course, Yes. But culturally and individually we’ve become not simply profane but lazy. People don’t know other words because they’ve never been expected to or tried to learn. It’s sad, because if the trend isn’t arrested we’ll keep slipping into a swamp built from the lowest common denominator of pop speech.

I can’t change the world, but at least I can assure I don’t contribute to the problem. So can you.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

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