10 February 2013

The Scourge of OMG!

by Dr Mark Keown

I was lying on Mount Maunganui beach in the recent glorious long weekend, trying to get that balance between stocking up on Vitamin D and avoiding too many UVs, when I found myself tuning in and out of a loud and proud conversation going on nearby between a host of young girls. I wasn’t really interested in the innocuous conversation about the latest fashions, boys and makeup, as much as the continuous use of the phrase “O my God!” which punctuated sentence after sentence for what seemed an eternity, e.g. “OMG, did you see what she was wearing…” “OMG, what have you done with your hair?” Yawn.

As I heard the recurring refrain, I found myself reflecting on whether or not I should be disturbed by this use of God’s name. Is it blasphemous? Or has it lost its connection to the living God so much that it is now a saying that has no religious significance? I pondered how to deal with it.

The saying is found everywhere. Perhaps the person who has done more to popularise it is Janice, an annoying character with a whiny voice on the sitcom Friends who entered in and out of the show irregularly always beginning with the emphatic, “O my God!” as she ran into one or other of the main characters. The phrase has become abbreviated especially for text-speak as OMG. It is one of the key current ways to express astonishment. TV programs are now littered with the saying – usually from young women with hands over their mouths expressing it with great energy in programs like America’s Next Top Model (so I am told, chuckle). It is a true pop-culture colloquialism.

I did a bit of “deep” research on Google and found people are split over whether it is blasphemous or not. One article I read suggested that the renowned theologian Stanley Hauerwas is on record as saying it is neither profanity nor vulgarity but “the grammar of lament.” More the language of shock I would say. Many others I read find it very offensive and blasphemous. Yet others consider it as meaningless as “Frankly,” which has nothing to do now with anyone called Frank Lee (yawn again).

Interestingly the phrase is found in Scripture. In the ESV version it is found 22 times in the Old Testament always in prayers such as 2 Chronicles 6:40 – “Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayer of this place.” Should that read, “Now, OMG,…”? Nehemiah especially liked the phrase as did the Psalmists (e.g. Nehemiah 13; Psalm 22:2).

Personally, I find it annoying as everytime I hear it. It gets under my skin somewhat. I feel like saying, “OMG, if you say that again I am going to come over there…” – joking.

Seriously, I do ponder how to deal with it. Do I start using it? I suppose that would be OK if I really mean it as a prayer a la Nehemiah. Or, do I mount a campaign on behalf of all God-believers in the world who are deeply offended by the blasphemy of our uncouth youth? – the Get OMG out of our media campaign. We could get help from some militant Muslims to drive home the point. No, that would be problematic, least of all making us look even more uptight than us Bible bashers already appear most of the time. I could say nothing? Mmm. Yes, this is a possibility and the best alternative on occasion I am sure. Or do I try and be clever and use it as a sliver of openness to bring God into a situation creatively. E.g. I could respond, “did I hear you pray? Nice.” Or, “I hear you referring to God, which God, are you a God-botherer?” Or some other witticism. I think only those with a certain skill for this sort of thing should try it.

What do you think? If you have a clever response, tell what it is by commenting on the blog.

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