"Whatever": Simultaneously the Worst and Best Word We Have
by Shawn McEvoy
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute… dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8).
On the one hand, it's always good to get scientific affirmation for something you believe or suspect.
On the other, it's never fun when you've been planning to write about that same belief or suspicion for over a year and someone goes out and steals your thunder.
But that's okay - a Fox News report about a survey by Marist College on the most annoying words in American conversation just gives me the excuse to get around to it now.
The article states:
47 percent of Americans surveyed in a Marist College poll released Wednesday [found "Whatever" to be the most annoying word we use].
"Whatever" easily beat out "you know," which especially grated a quarter of respondents. The other annoying contenders were "anyway" (at 7 percent), "it is what it is" (11 percent) and "at the end of the day" (2 percent).
"Whatever" — pronounced "WHAT'-ehv-errr" when exasperated — is an expression with staying power. Immortalized in song by Nirvana ("oh well, whatever, nevermind") in 1991, popularized by the Valley girls in "Clueless" later that decade, it is still commonly used, often by younger people.
It can be an all-purpose argument-ender or a signal of apathy. And it can really be annoying. The poll found "whatever" to be consistently disliked by Americans regardless of their race, gender, age, income or where they live.
I've felt that way for years. When someone uses "whatever" on me in a conversation or email, it's a kick to the groin of non-importance. Beyond annoying, it's rude and dismissive. It's also ignorant, especially when delivered at the end of what was supposed to be a friendly debate or argument, because it illustrates that the person had no better retort and is now summarily ending the conversation with a parting shot connoting that nothing you just said mattered anyway. "Whatever!"
In a country sorely lacking in civility, manners, and conversation skills... and ripe with apathy and self-importance, "Whatever" is the motto du jour.
Then again... what a powerful word it can be for our walk with Christ.
It's kind of like when you are reading a play, or preparing to act in one. You have the script before you. There are minimal clues for how any word in the text should be read. What inflection, what level of voice, what tone shall I use? What does the context and the setting and the personality of the character tell me in regards to how this word or line is going to sound? Ultimately, you and the Director decide.
And I've decided that "Whatever" can be, if we so choose, the defining word of the Christian life. Because while few other words carry the same potential for dismissive rudeness, no other word holds the same potential for all-out surrender and steadfast faith. As my mother-in-law is fond of saying, spiritual maturity for her has involved moving from a "What-If?" faith to a "Whatever" faith.
I find you guilty in your sins.
Whatever you say, Lord, I repent and accept the sacrifice of your Son who atoned for them.
This situation you're in is going to hurt.
Whatever. I know my faith will be made strong through trials, and that I can do all things through your strength.
You don't know what the future holds; only I do.
Whatever it is, you deserve glory and honor and praise. Bring it on!
I want you to [go to Africa / give to this homeless person / quit this job / plant this church / preach my Word]
I know you think this is unfair compared to that person's situation, but do not let comparison steal my joy from you.
Whatever, God. Whatever.
The Apostle Paul was the master of “whatever.” To wit:
Phil. 4:11: I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
1 Cor. 10:31: Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Gal. 6:7: Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.
Eph. 6:8: Whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.
Phil. 4:8: Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.