On the train recently the following conversation took place a few seats behind me.

‘I saw Joanne the other day. Oh my God!’

‘Really, oh my God!’

‘Yeah, I tried to pretend I didn’t see her but she was like, Rachel, Rachel, and I was like oh my God!’

What is it to be like oh my God? Everyone, but no-one, knows. We are no longer precise about what we feel, or say. In fact we are decidedly imprecise. Always like something. Usually like oh my God. But what is it, this state of oh-my-god-ness that we find ourselves in? And not just the pure state itself, but something like it. When did this imprecision, this inability to define ourselves, our actions or our emotions come about?

Is it the fault of politicians with all their slippery imprecision, all their fullness of time, their unAustralian judgements at the end of the day? Or is it corporate management with their innovative cutting edge project facilitation and pointless PowerPoint presentations? Or sportsmen (usually men, but perhaps it is women too) with their yeah, no and taking it one day at a time? Ready-made phrases are so common, and never challenged. So who would want to be truthful and precise when you could be asked, ‘But what do you mean?’ When you don’t want anyone to know exactly what you mean, perhaps don’t truly mean anything anyway. Politicians don’t want to be accountable for pre election statements, later when those promises can’t be fulfilled. Sportsmen don’t want to give away game or race plans to the media and opposition teams. And corporations can’t afford to be precise, what with so many people involved in managing, prioritising and evaluating all that imprecision. And there’s nothing like a PowerPoint presentation to always threaten to impart knowledge but never quite deliver; always like a meeting, a talk, but nothing of substance – bullet points of the bleeding obvious.

If we are always like something we are never something. Never something meaningful anyway. I imagine challenging the young woman on the train: ‘What do you mean when you say you were like oh my God? Why were you saying that?’

‘Oh, you know.’

‘No, I don’t actually.’

‘Just like … well, you know what it means. Everyone knows what it means.’ And we do too. We know without knowing anything.

But if our language is less than precise, there are other things that are extremely exact. Numbers, passwords, login user names, pin numbers, web addresses, email addresses. Get these wrong, be even minutely imprecise – omit a dot, add a dot where none exists – and your way is barred until you can be extraordinarily precise.

‘What do you mean when you say you were like oh my God?’

‘Cos, like, it was like, I felt like_’

‘Sorry, access denied!’

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