Jerry Seinfeld Defends Use of the Word 'Really' in Angry Letter to New York Times Critic

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Jerry Seinfeld penned an angry letter to New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger after being unable to, uh, wrap his head around the writer's column on the use of the word "really" in scripted TV.

In his piece, Genzlinger criticizes TV writers for what he perceives as their overuse of the word when it's "delivered with a high-pitched sneer to indicate a contempt so complete that it requires no clarification."

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"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," he wrote. "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."

Genzlinger went on to argue that "Really?" is a "cop-out word" both on TV and in real life whose "moment passed several years ago" and that its use has "jumped the shark" on television. He also name-checked Seinfeld's former co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

"In the season finale of the HBO comedy Veep in June, what did Julia Louis-Dreyfus’jerr Selina, the vice president of the United States, say to a staff member who had prematurely sent out a news release about his own promotion? 'Really?' John C. Calhoun and who knows how many other oratorically inclined former vice presidents turned over in their graves," he opined.

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He continued: "'Really?' was once an expression of wonderment that also acknowledged a gap in the user’s knowledge. Back when Einstein first announced that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, the 'Reallys?' that resulted were saying: 'I am astounded by your discovery, so much so that I can scarcely wrap my head around it. You, sir, are a genius.'"

But Seinfeld -- who has recently been appearing in his own web series, titled Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee -- took issue with the column, writing in a letter to The Times that the piece was "so deeply vacuous that I couldn’t help but feel that you have stepped into my area of expertise."

"Really, Neil? Really? You’re upset about too many people saying, 'Really?'? I mean, really," he wrote. "OK, fine, when it’s used in scripted media, it is a little lazy. But comedy writers are lazy. You’re not fixing that. So, here’s the bottom line. If you’re a writer, fine, don’t use it. But in conversation it is fun to say."

He also mocked Genzlinger's use of the phrase "wrap my head around it."

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"What I do not say or write, as you did in the part about responses to Einstein's theories, is 'wrap my head around it,'" he wrote. "Are you kidding? No, no, no, Neil. No sir. When I hear people say, 'If you can wrap your head around it,' I want to wrap their heads around something, like a pole," he wrote. "There’s no 'wrapping.' There’s no heads going around. Don’t preach to us about 'Really?' and then wrap our heads around things. You crumbled a bit of civilization off there yourself. Really."

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