It is indeed not easy to distinguish affectation from habit.
It’s very interesting to see how the lingo changes through the years and how phrases that are firmly associated with a certain subset of society (e.g. surfers, bikers, environmental scientists) explode into common usage.
For example, I started thinking about this entry and have since noticed that I use the word “dude” a lot.
It’s not intentional. I have no idea where it came from.
I’m not proud of it.
But is it in affectation? I can honestly say that I do not say the word “dude” to elicit any specific response or present myself in any particular light. But it begs the question, when is a figure of speech (or action or fashion statement) an affectation?
I have a colleague who will periodically use the word “righteous” to describe something very good. This dude… sorry, this person, is quite intelligent and generally speaks very formally. When he throws out a word like that, it makes me think. Well, first, it makes me wince, then groan, but then it makes me think.
Is he making a conscious decision to come across in a certain way?
When I have one or two drinks (or one or two more drinks) my language tends to become more “colorful.” From my perspective, this is also not a conscious decision and it’s not in response to anything specific; just a natural loosening of my inhibitions. But I could definitely see how some might consider a sudden change in my vocabulary to be an affectation.
So when is speech affected and when is it not?
One way to determine if behavior is affected is noticing if when it’s a change from a person’s typical behavior. A person consistently speaks in a certain way, then for some reason their language (or actions, or fashion) changes into something else entirely.
There may be reasons for this change. For example, I know people from parts of the country where people speak with an accent to fall more heavily into this accent when they’re around “their people” (and yes, everyone does have an accent except for me). One of my old bosses is from rural South Florida, and I could always tell when he was on the phone with his family or friends back home. He became a Southerner again.
Another circumstance in which I tend to think of behavior as affected is when it is inconsistent with a person’s background or upbringing. For example, a kid who was brought up in a middle-class suburban environment suddenly speaking and dressing as if he or she is from an inner-city area.
So is anything that is not “normal” or “typical” an affectation? What distinguishes an affectation from other forms of expression?
It comes down to intent. An affectation is, by definition, meant to impress or elicit a particular response. But here we get into murky waters. An argument could be made that every time we interact with other people, we are trying to elicit a response. We want people to like us. We want to influence people. We want to intimidate people.
We regularly use our behavior to impress or try to get a response. So where is the line? When is something an obvious affectation, and when is it normal behavior? If I came to work one day dressed in a cowboy hat and boots, speaking with a Western accent, it would be ridiculous, right? So where is that line?
Am I trying to play my cowboy persona straight, or am I doing it with a wink? (Note: I don’t actually have a cowboy persona.) What about my “nice guy Pete” persona? Is that an affectation? Some people are more comfortable with an affectation as long as the person doesn’t play it straight. They just want honesty. So are all affectations dishonest? It depends. If I came to work one day speaking with a German accent, I couldn’t tell people, “That’s just the way I talk.”
What if an affectation is based on a personal epiphany? What if I came to the conclusion that my dress is a reflection of my pride and started to wear a suit and tie every day? In my own mind, that is the way I dress now.
Ultimately, there is no hard line. There’s nothing wrong with any affectation as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Some people may try to get a specific response from people, but we all do. Some are just more obvious about it than others.
We all choose our speech, mannerisms, and fashion. We hear our parents speaking in a certain way, and we start to speak that way. That’s how we learn. Then we hear other “cooler” people behaving in a different way, and we start to behave in that way. Is it an affectation? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it.
We all choose to express ourselves in a certain way. Some choose expressions that are more vivid or striking than others.
We should never shy away from expressing ourselves, and if that means doing something different, then so be it.