The expression ‘by the way’ is extremely popular nowadays*. And why not? It’s a great way to get from one topic to another. We’re talking about one thing, you’re reminded of something that you want to bring up so you say “by the way” and- out with it. In fact, you could replace ‘by the way’ with ‘speaking of [whatever you were speaking of]’ and you’d never have a problem.
*Actually, ‘btw’ is what’s popular, but we’ll get to that later.
So what’s with using ‘by the way’ to transition between two unrelated things? I say, “I’m looking forward to going down east to Maine for rehearsal tomorrow.” And you say, “By the way, the Bruins are playing like one of the best teams in the NHL right now!”
That’s not exactly the correct use of ‘by the way’ is it? I mean, sure, you can imagine the train of thought: Maine – cold – ice – ice hockey – Bruins. But that’s more like ‘down the street in the garage apartment behind the shingled house on the left.’ We’re using this term all willy nilly, leaving it’s meaning by the wayside.
In high school, I knew a guy that had mastered this usage. In fact, he took it to a whole ‘nother level. He could use by the way to transition into a conversation– from silence! My friend Dan* was his roommate.
*Like that was really his name! Ha! I change all the names on here.
Every night, at lights out, Dan was in the top bunk and this other guy in the bottom bunk. The lights were off and they were both trying to fall asleep. A few minutes would pass in silence, Dan would be this close to drifting off when he heard, in this overly loud, Robin Leech-y voice:
“By the waaaay, Dan-”
And then this guy proceed to launch into some story that Dan was not remotely prepared for, let alone interested in. It became legendary, to the point that we now must start all random thoughts with “By the way, Dan…” When you hear those four words, you know something is coming out of the blue, but you’re already laughing, so that’s perfectly fine.
I’ve resisted text shortcuts like btw* (and lol and every other thing) for a while now. I’m always afraid of abbreviating too much and becoming one of those people who say “whatev” and even worse, “wev.” And adding lettered abbreviations in verbal conversation? ‘Lol’ is the same amount of syllables as ‘laugh out loud’; it takes just as long to say. But I’m completely sold on btwd as acceptable. Say the whole thing if you are talking, write the abbreviation when texting, tweeting and occasionally, e-mailing. Most importantly, use it correctly. If it’s truly “by the way” then say that. If it’s a non-sequitur, or even better, a conversation starter, then it needs a ‘Dan.’
*Btw doesn’t even get caught in the spellcheck! WordPress thinks that’s a word! And wordpress doesn’t even think wordpress is a word! Ha!
By the way, Dan, Happy New Year!