December 2022 . . . .

“Something on my mind . . . .”

We — that ubiquitous pronoun that supposedly means more than one but otherwise reveals so little — are parting ways one with another. And not just petulantly saying goodbye, ghosting in whatever way the words or actions manifest themselves, but moving socially, spiritually, politically, morally, tribally, physically, and chronologically apart.

Like tectonic plates inexorably shifting, only way faster.

There’s a great deal to this, but at least part of the . . . current differentiation between us has to do with our vocabulary. When we use our words — as our parents used to entreat us to do when we were mere ankle-biters — we have an expectation that others within hearing distance understand what we’re saying. There is an assumption that those others speak the same language as us. This is not always the case, of course, and we resort to frustrated and even angry increase in volume and frequency, tone and repetition, in the hopes that we can be understood. When we are not understood we become desperate in our disparateness.

Louder, slower, more frustrated. Repeating aloud the same thing, again, hoping for some new result. Becoming angry at others, at ourselves, when that new result doesn’t manifest. Acting out our anger. These are not the actions of a society, however we choose to define that word.

Why aren’t we on the same page? We’re speaking the same language, aren’t we? No. And I don’t mean the words brought into this society by other cultures, introduced additions to our vocabulary that enhance, advance, and nourish the variety of our lexicon.

I mean the acronyms, shorthand or slang terminology that are created by every generation, with the intention of setting generations apart. Those may be a necessary aspect of life. A minor fad-cryptology, if you will, that permits kids to irk their elders. Fire, sick, righteous, cool, bitchin’, wizard, keen, neat-o, swift.

Or twenty-three skidoo.

T’was always thus, I am told. But it seems very poor timing of late. Purposefully engage in the parting of ourselves, into us’es and them’s, smaller and smaller subsets, the sense as well as the reality of a “we” in society is that we are becoming tinier dots on the communication Venn diagram, without, I suspect, even thinking about it. Certainly not considering some of the consequences. In our efforts to find something to belong to — most of us want to belong — we are creating fences that separate us. Sharp, splintery things.

But fences make good neighbors! goes the old chestnut. Fences keep things in. And out. They protect, but they divide. Fences permit privacy, but they hide. Good and bad, help- and harmful.

And, if we keep sorting and classifying ourselves, “we” will become “me.” Me, compartmentalized and alone. Me doing what I want, when I want. Me saying things without regards for anyone else, not caring, not aware. Me not worried at all about not comprehending what that person over there is saying, much less thinking how we are related. Seeing no consequences at finding no common ground.

Or I could be wrong. Maybe how we use our words is not as big an issue as I think. Maybe we’re good at being both tribal and a larger thing, a society. Maybe. I doubt it, though.

Twenty-three skidoo. Do you know what I mean? Has that term ever crossed your radar? Not so very long ago, it was just a bit of silliness painted on the door of a Ford roadster jalopy.

Did it ever actually mean anything?

Funny how origins get muddy. The following may or may not be accurate. Supposedly, the faddish saying of “twenty-three” originated in the first showing of an 1899 play made from Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” in which the main character, Sidney Carton — going to the guillotine in place of someone else — is being beheaded “by the numbers.” Sidney steps up, gives his number — twenty-three — and that’s that. Edgy, hip folks of the gilded age found that…interesting enough to start throwing “twenty-three” into conversation. Interrupt me? Twenty-three, pal. Want to dance? Twenty-three, darling. How are you doing? Twenty-three!

And we think that skidoo comes from skedaddle, a slang term that was being said, shouted even, as far back as the American Civil War when troops saw the other side running away — Look at them blue-bellies skedaddle!  — or when they entreated each other to do the same. A bit of British slang — “scaddle” — precedes that, pointing backwards to the Irish (gaelic) word for scatter — “sgedadol.” Now we have a code term that means what we want it to mean, at any given moment — Time to go, baby. Drop whatever you’re doing. Let’s leave, your father is a real jerk, isn’t he? Twenty-three skidoo!

What is the point? Why not just say scatter? Because we don’t want you to understand what we just said. It isn’t for you.

Left, right, red, blue, fake, real, great, hate, cancel, believe, think, know, truth.