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What were they thinking? Some notes on word use

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Ric MorganPet Peeves With Words

By Featured Speaker Ric Morgan

No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately.
– Michel de Montaigne

It’s a miracle that anyone can learn American English. The language is full of things that make absolutely no sense, and there are common phrases that must take years for someone other than a native to fully understand.

Last week I purchased a new item at the grocery store. I guess I am a sucker for advertising because I like to try the new things that come along. Of course that’s not saying that I’m going to like it and purchase it forever, but you just never know.

With something new you want to read the directions the first time. I was surprised at the words in very bold type, DO NOT MICROWAVE, because that is exactly what I had planned to do. The next line: DO NOT COOK IN A TOASTER OVEN. OK, there goes my alternative method of preparation. The third line was, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

OK, let’s stop right here a moment. That line has always been a pet peeve of mine, with a few others thrown in for good measure. PREHEAT the oven! Just exactly how do you do that? PRERECORD or PRERECORDED is just as bad.

Why not say, TURN ON THE OVEN. SET IT TO 350 DEGREES. ALLOW IT TO REACH 350 DEGREES BEFORE COOKING?

I know…I know, that’s a whole lot more words, but it makes more sense.

THIS PROGRAM WAS PRERECORDED, should be WE RECORDED THIS SHOW. What’s so wrong with that? It’s true and it makes a whole lot more sense.

Airline employee: “WE WILL NOW START PREBOARDING!” Aren’t they doing that outside with the fuel and food trucks? Why not just say, “LINE UP Y’ALL. WE’RE GONNA LET YA GET ON THIS PLANE AND GET YA OUTTA HERE! WE’RE TRIED OF DEALING WITH YA AND WE WANNA MAKE YOU SOMEONE ELSE’S PROBLEM.” All right, so the last part is what they’re thinking, but you all know what I mean.

Is it any wonder people say American English is so hard to learn? I don’t think it’s the basics so much (on second thought…who…whom…etc.), it’s the idioms (maybe that should be idiotisms) and sayings we have.

My late wife had one line she used all the time and failed to see that it wasn’t logical: “It was in the last place I looked.” Of course it was. Why would you going on looking for it when you had found it?

Here’s another one: “I’m gonna sleep ’til I wake up,” meant that she planned to sleep late.

I’m not perfect. I have my own set of stupid things I say, but I “came by them honestly,” according to a saying used a lot by my mother. She was one of the best. There were times I thought she was making up as she went, but sure enough, some day down the road, someone else would say it that I know didn’t know my mother.

One of my favorites was, “She (he) has the same clothes to get glad in that she (he) got mad in.” It makes sense, but just barely. But I was a child in the stupid stage when I used it on my mother once at the dinner table. My father dropped his fork and shook his head and moaned, while my brother sat there with his mouth and eyes wide open, not believing I had just done that. She didn’t talk to me for two weeks after that.

But this is not something new. People in America back in Revolutionary War times must have been befuddled by Benjamin Franklin’s little gems: “A stitch in time save nine, a penny saved is a penny earned, and damn that hurts (as the lighting struck his kite).” All right I made up that last one, too. But you get the idea.

We are constantly bombarded and bewildered by sayings made by the Chinese and Confucius, and some of them are really strange. “One dead rabbit makes a simple meal, two dead rabbits a feast.” Maybe that makes a lot more sense in Mandarin. Who knows, those rabbits could smell really bad because they are five-day-old roadkill.

And the bastardization (the spell-checker does not recognize that word, so I may have just created something new right before your eyes) of even the most simple and basic language can drive you nuts. One that annoys me more than anything is “I seen.” “I seen that on the tube. I seen that in a store. I seen where he was going with that thought.” I SEEN?!?!?!?! What’s wrong with “I saw or I have seen?” (My grammar-checker in my word-processing program just blew up). And it’s not just us common folk using such language. I saw an ivory tower-type saying that on C-SPAN not long ago and I nearly passed out from surprise.

Another one that has entered the language and is upsetting not just me, but lots of others as well, is calling EVERYONE guys. There can be a table of nice looking, highly-intelligent, well-dressed, well-educated women in an upscale restaurant, only to have the waiter waltz up and say, “What’ll youse guys have?” No joke, I have seen a whole group of women just get up, grab their belongings and head for the door, leaving the waiter standing there saying, “What…..?”

This isn’t rocket science folks. It’s your native tongue. Once you’ve learned it it’s not that hard to use properly. In our little example above, a smart waiter looking for a large tip and a table full of happy customers wanting to return and ask to be put in his station the next time would have said, “What will you lovely ladies have today? Let’s start with you…”

“What’ll youse have?” is even better than, “What’ll youse GUYS have?”

Sometimes I can be a real unthinking jerk who hurts more than he helps. I turned to someone one day and said, “If you’ll please excuse me, I have 32 ounces of processed Diet Rite Pure Zero┬« in me, and I need to go flush that from my system.” Now who from a foreign country would get that?

Recently I was called a wordsmith, and I took that as a very wonderful compliment. As both a professional speaker and writer, I guess words have been a big part of my whole life. The other day I sent a thank you letter to a friend along with a small gift of gratitude for all she has done for me since we met. As soon as she got it, she sent me an e-mail message thanking me for the beautiful letter. I had to go back and look at it and I thought it was rather basic, but to her it was so important she scanned it and put it on her blog page.

Words are VERY powerful things and should be used with care. And the fewer the better. I am working very hard at being as concise verbally as I am on the page. It’s difficult because we like to hear the sound of our voice. In a telephone conversation recently the person on the other end repeated the same thing five times. That’s what made me so aware, so I immediately started my campaign to eliminate verbal repetition. I guess that’s what is meant by verbal diarrhea.

Ann Landers said it best: “When all is said and done, more is said than done.” Ann, I couldn’t agree more, And while we’re are it, why not clean up our language and make it more sensible, with clearer instructions, and fewer stupid sayings. I say, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”

Some other time we’ll talk about cleaning up our language in other ways.


About the Author
I’m Ric Morgan and if you go to http://thekeynotespeaker.net you can find out what I can do as a professional speaker for your company, association, church, school, or university/college in presentations with a very positive message. As an award-winning speaker I have over 36 years experience, and have spoken live before over 3,000,000 people, and countless others on radio and TV. All of my programs are customized to your needs and the theme of your convention, conference, meeting or after-dinner event. I also offer last-minute emergency services.

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