An entire article about one word? Really?

From The New York Times:

Civilization crumbles a little bit almost every time I turn on the television, and a single word-and-punctuation-mark combination is inflicting the damage.

You’ve heard it too, no doubt, and if you’re a person who values grace and urbanity and eating with utensils rather than burying your face in the plate, you’ve winced whenever some TV character has spewed it. It’s the snarky “Really?,” and it’s undoing 2,000 years’ worth of human progress.

I’m not talking about “Really?” as a request for more information or an expression of surprise. I’m referring to the more recent, faddish use of it: delivered with a high-pitched sneer to indicate a contempt so complete that it requires no clarification.

Say a co-worker shows up for a pivotal meeting wearing a plaid blouse and a polka-dot skirt. In the old days you might have said: “Well, that is certainly an interesting fashion choice. Myself, I prefer something more subdued when sitting down with a client.” Now, though, if you’ve succumbed to the loathsome trend, you will simply aim as withering a look as you can at your colleague, say “Really?” and walk away.

This irksome use has been turning up on television with a frequency that suggests that a scriptwriters’ union has trademarked it and is receiving royalties, even though its moment passed several years ago. We know that “Really?” has jumped the shark because America’s leading satire factories have been disrespecting it for years. “Saturday Night Live” had the “Really!?! With Seth and Amy” skits, in which Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler beat the word to death as a means of mocking celebrity blunders and such. On “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” John Oliver, especially, has pioneered the extremely difficult Reverse “Really?,” in which he belittles a sane and reasoned stance taken by Mr. Stewart with a “Really?” when Mr. Oliver’s own view is the ludicrous one.

And yet the scriptwriters keep trotting out the word as if it were something fresh and original. When a character does something stupid or says something inappropriate or expresses an opinion another character dislikes, a “Really?” can’t be far behind.

Guys use it when shooting the breeze. Pete, for instance, tossed a “Really?” at the boorish Andre in an episode of the FX comedy “The League” last October after Andre delivered a critique of a woman by speculating that she had a retrograde uterus.

But guys probably can’t be held to a high standard of discourse. More alarming is that “Really?” has crept into our finest medical establishments. When a monkey rode a motorized toy ambulance through a veterinary hospital in the pilot of NBC’s “Animal Practice,” Dorothy, the hospital’s new owner, looked on aghast and then said the vile word to the doctor who was presiding over the chaos.

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