My Jewish grandmother had a penchant for big words that began with “I”—so much so that I often wondered if her vocabulary class stopped before the letter “J.” Imminent. Immense. Impetuous. Inimitable. Indubitable. Inimical. Her favorite was insipid. She used that word a lot, always spitting it out with so much relish that it sounded like another of the Yiddishisms she brandished, frequently at my sister’s and my expense. (Look at those goyishe noses! They look just like their shiksa mother’s! ) Lately I keep flashing on it because it’s such a perfect term for what I find irksome about our culture right now. The emoticarnage, the tremulously hyperbolic headlines, the LOLs, the fake-it-til-you-make-it selfies, the definite article-laden titles for spouses and children (The Princess! The Heir! The Hubs!), the kooky animal videos sent to me by suitors who, in another generation, might have demonstrated the good sense to send flowers or chocolate. The proliferation of fake-earnest catchphrases like “can I just say?” “I can’t lie,” and, my least favorite, “so many feelings.” Not to mention the largely accepted tendency to deliver statements in singsong or as questions?
Though I embrace the particular cuteness of any being who tries hard un-self-consciously, I’ve always eschewed preciousness; never had much patience for aw-shucksiness; and would rather people say it than spray it, as the expression used to go. All this niceyniceness is enough to make a kind girl run to snark, at least in this seemingly endless winter. My grandmother was largely regarded as a pill—always picking, never hugging (hers was a hard life)—but she had a knack for calling out, er, mishegos. More and more I catch myself donning her navy pumps, fake furs, and smeary red lipstick, figuratively and literally. Because, really, insipid is the perfect word for these times. She was insightful, nu?