Sunday, March 01, 2015

"Yelled At"

Every so often, a turn of phrase just irritates me.  For the past couple of weeks, it's been "yelled at."

Now, if someone raises their voice and yells at you, then use it, by all means. 

But mostly when I hear it used, it's hyperbole. 

Recently, my screw up came to light, and my chair talked to me about it.  (And then I did what I could to unscrew it, and it came out okay.)  Now, our chair is eminently reasonable, decent, ethical, and humane, so the chair spoke to me respectfully, without a raised voice.

And later (since the unscrewing involved telling other people I'd screwed up in order to get things to happen), one of those other people said s/he was sorry I'd been "yelled at" by the chair.  And I said I wasn't yelled at.

But I hear it so often, and mostly the way it's used makes the issue way more confrontational than it should be made.  Actually being yelled at is way more serious than the usual corrections or reprimands people are talking about.

For example, I hear students say their professor "yelled at" the class, and I know I didn't yell, but merely warned them about doing homework or something.

Or I hear someone say their doctor "yelled at" them for not losing weight, and I'm pretty sure their doctor didn't raise his/her voice (though may have been exasperated, of course).

I think what bothers me is that the phrase has lost its metaphorical power, but hasn't lost the sense of violence; people don't think of it as a metaphor, and so it seems to carry this quality of anger and violence to characterize what isn't always an angry or violent situation.

Maybe we can use "chide" instead?  Or make "tsk" a verb?

However, I don't think comments on my little blog are going to change this pattern of language use.  Maybe if I raise my voice?


  1. We have a fine locution here in the South: "Get after."

    As in, "Now I'ma have to get after some of y'all about not studying enough for this exam."

    You must imagine me speaking in a tone of gentle exasperation as I address my students here.

  2. I like "get after," too (and haven't heard it before, despite spending a good deal of my life in the former Confederacy -- but not far enough south, I suspect).

    "Chide" strikes me as a good, precise word for use in many of the situations you describe. There is also "scold," which has no connotation of violence, but does have unfortunate, often gendered, associations. There is also "balled out," which seems similar to "yelled at" (I'm not sure one can ball someone else without raising one's voice), but (maybe?) carries less of a suggestion that the person doing the yelling/balling/scolding has lost emotional control. There may also, of course, be gender associations with "balled out"; I'm not sure of the derivation.

    1. I believe the verb is "bawl," and yes, it is loud.

  3. Taken to task?

    I think this is related the way we have lost (as a culture, at least) the ability to have respectful disagreement. In that world being told that you blew it, and you have to help fix whatever it is, gets defined as confrontation.

    1. I think that's a good connection, Susan. (I'd like to respectfully disagree, but I can't!)