Sarah Bums Us All Out
My apologies to my followers, who saw this post accidentally a few weeks ago. I experienced some technical difficulties. Oh the joys of scheduling a post. If you saw this twice, I’m sorry. -Sarah
For my first major task of the new year, I would like to call a moratorium* on the word “bummer.” Having been on the receiving end of this word several times from various people** lately, I have to say: I loathe it. I don’t remember hearing it that much until recently, but it’s as if “bummer” bum-rushed vernacular speech, and set up camp indefinitely, settling down with the “sucks to be yous” and unseating the “sorry to hear thats.” I’d like to evict this vagabond from our vocabulary.
For one thing, it’s kind of a stupid word. The dictionary defines it as “one who bums around,” which has been replaced by “bum” in present-day usage. So, technically a bummer and a bum are synonymous. Its more common colloquial meaning, “a disappointment,” has roots in surfer-slash-skateboarder culture and I don’t know that we want to look to them as the models of decorum. Point Break, anyone?
For another thing, it’s an inadequate description at best, downright rude at worst. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say it and thought, “You know what, this personal struggle of mine totally is a bummer. Thank you for pointing that out.” Because, you see, my definition of bummer includes things like breaking a shoelace or dropping my ice cream cone or spilling on my shirt on my way out the door–things I probably wouldn’t mention to most people in a recap of my day. But it’s been used for things like broken hearts and broken car windows and broken-in dwellings; things that will bother me for years.
I realize that we live in a world where people find it hard to empathize with one another. It takes a lot of work to imagine what it would be like to live someone else’s struggle in their exact situation, not if what happened to them happened to us in our current situation. But even when it is
just a “bummer” situation, I don’t find empathy in that word. I find it empty.
I know that people mean well when they say it, and we really don’t have adequate ways of expressing collective empathy over a disappointment or heartbreak. But I bristle every time someone refers to something as a bummer, even things I would consider bummers. It always comes across as condescending and dismissive, and I feel like it’s the type of word that should never be used by someone about someone else’s present state.** Let’s curb the word, shall we, and try to be more sensitive to one another. Never underestimate how far an “I’m sorry to hear that” will go. It’s only two syllables more than “That’s a bummer,” but it also contains “I care about you.” And I do. I care very much.
*Actually, I really want to call a cease and desist. I’d rather we not postpone the usage of this word but end it on a large scale. But moratorium is just a fun word and I never get to use it. Yes, I know I’m a nerd. I don’t care.
**I’m sure you think, probably kids, mostly, right? No. I’ve heard it quite a bit from the over-50 crowd.
***If you want to describe your own situation as a bummer, go right ahead. I’ll still probably note it in my head. And, please know that it’s okay to say it’s larger than that.