Ponder this:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Language! Language!

A few days ago somebody accused me of being a grammar snob. It wasn't the first time that's happened. I don't know if I'm insulted or proud. 
I don't like being seen as a snob, although if I were a snob about anything, language might well be my choice.  The subject arose because I thanked someone for writing "trouper" instead of "trooper" in praise of a person who persisted through troubles. 

I remember a Family Circus cartoon that I can't find to show you.  (This is why old people are valuable: we remember things that no one else can see.) In the cartoon, the very young son of the family, novice reader Billy, is reading from a storybook.  His younger sister, Dolly leans against him, looking off into the air, picturing the story as he reads.  Above Dolly's head there are billowing clouds of picture balloons with big Xs drawn over them and their replacements.  I can't remember the words in the cartoon but it was something like:
"The dog chased the bull."
Dolly pictures a dog chasing a huge black steam-snorting bull.
"...ball," Billy corrects.
Big black X over the bull picture and a new balloon with a happy cartoon doggy chasing a little red ball.
"The dog has fan," reads Billy, and Dolly pictures the dog, ears flapping backward as he sits in front of an electric fan.
"...fun," Billy says. The dog/fan balloon is crossed out and replaced by a  dog smiling around the red ball in his mouth.

I seem to know a number of people who speak in code.  

Husband often fails to organize his thoughts before words cartwheel from his lips. All the words are there; they're just in no particular sensible order.  Sometimes conversing with him is like solving a word jumble. 

The other evening the blasting cold temperature caused the water to stop flowing in the upstairs bathroom. We performed the marital song-and-dance routine of The Failure of Water or Electricity, yelling to each other up and down two floors:
"Is it on?"
A pause. "No."
...and on and on.

Husband joined me in the small upstairs room and contorted himself into a wildly uncomfortable-looking position to look silently, probingly, at pipes that he assumed were holding frozen water. Relieved of my duty, I returned to couch and book. A few minutes later, I thought I heard sloshing water and the sound of the jets in the bathtub, and shortly after that, I heard Husband speedily descending the stairs. I steeled myself for news of disaster, picturing the upstairs floor flooded, the walls crumbling. I began searching my brain for some of the calming phrases that I have learned in Wife School.

He appeared at the stair landing. 
"What's happening?" I asked. (Had the pipes exploded and he'd had to shuck his drenched clothing?)
"I left water in the tub," he said.
"Okay. Why are you naked?"
"Because I think it will keep the temperature up up there."
"But why are you naked?"
"I took a bath!" (A little snappish, that.)
"So the water's running?"
"Yes, but I'm going to turn off the valve downstairs."
The whole exchange reminded me of our long ago "fee" conversation. 

Husband came by this lingual dysfunction honestly. His mother used to frustrate me with her verbal dyslexia.  I think that difficulty was a big part of the reason that I so disliked speaking with her by telephone:  I needed visual clues to interpret what she was saying to me.
"I went shopping today at B & G's and got some great deals!" she'd exclaim.
I would picture commercial-size jars of bread-and-butter pickles and try to think of an appropriate response.
"What will you do with them?" I might have asked, thinking she had plans to freeze gallons of pickles for summer picnics.
"What do you think I'm gonna do with it?" she'd screech.
She meant she'd been to BJ's Wholesale Club, where she'd saved zillions of dollars on toilet paper and pretzels.

Afternoon Boss has the same trouble with language. Names, in particular. He's good about getting out his own files when he needs them, but he looks for the name on the file and he can't remember names. If the applicant's name is Beaulieu, he looks for "Below." I can't help by looking up the file number because I can't find, in my spreadsheet, applicant "Below."  To him I guess they look the same; he seems to find the files he needs. 
Afternoon Boss delivers verbal messages to me as, for example, "Bill Tinker called." 
The man's name is Rob Tranken. 

When I read, "She's been a real trooper through this whole ordeal," I picture a stern-faced woman in full law-enforcement uniform.  It takes me a nanosecond to figure out that that picture needs a big black X over it and one beside it with a brave dancer with bandaged foot and broad public smile.

My "grammar snob" accuser continued our conversation with, "I figure as long as I get my point across....who cares." 

I feel like Dolly. I'm not a snob. I'm just trying to follow the story.

That writer does the most, who gives his reader the most knowledge, and takes from him the least time. 
~Reverend Charles Caleb Colton


Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

A great read. I needed to begin my day with a good laugh. Excuse me now, while I go back to read the link you made to a previous conversation with your husband. I will try not to picture him naked, as I read. :-)

Anonymous said...

We are having the same kinds of miscommunication in our home causing lots of tension. thanks for the laugh.

Carolynn Anctil said...

Excellent! I can so relate to your conversations with you husband and mother-in-law. Conversations with my Mom make me mental. She leaves more information out than she provides and it's like playing verbal charades. It frustrates me to no end and I end up playing the 20 questions game with her to get to the root of what the heck she's talking about. I'm learning to breathe my way through it, but it's a challenge.

The story book is familiar to me. Apparently, when I was to young to read, I would memorize the stories my Mom read to me. Then, I would sit with a book, upside down, and 'read' it out loud. "Mary, Mary, Chichen Cherry, How does your garden groooooow?"

Susan said...

I can so relate to this. Just this morning my hubby had me do a Google search for a book called "Don't Feed"... the whatever. He got so frustrated because I couldn't get the correct results to come up. After finally relenting and searching by the author's name, the title was actually "Starving" not "don't feed". This type of communication drives me batty. I have a friend that insists that Toyota has an SUV called a RAVA. It's a RAV-4. My mother's entire family was wacky. I grew up with "I was talking to that woman, that lives in that house that has those flowers around it, what's her son's name?" Now that I'm a wife I get to combine all these quirks with my hubby's habit of stopping for 7-10 seconds, before he finishes his thought, and I'm ready to either pull my hair out, or ignore him and move on. Glad to know that I'm not the only one that deals with these quirky conversations. Loved this post, by the way. It was too, too funny.

Von said...

Ah!The Grammar Snob..take it as a compliment and proof that you're upholding old customs that matter and improve life.If you don't they'll die out and then were will those of us who care be left?
Re male-female communication.They speak a different language, it takes years,decades to begin to pick up the first clues!

Lord Wellbourne said...

In the spirit of Shakespeare, Milton, Shaw, you are, indeed, a trouper!! Great post.

My mother, who is multi-lingual, carries on an entire conversation with me nearly every day in four different languages. I can only converse in two of them so the rest is conjecture. Makes life a wee bit more interesting. However, she always gives the punchline to her racy jokes in German--which I do not speak. When I remind her I don't speak that language she tells me it doesn't matter because it doesn't translate well anyway. Aauuggghhh!!

Anonymous said...

I am fortunate in my limited vocabulary.

Friko said...

Yesssss, another language pedant!
You should hear me go on about grammar, the mot juste or sloppy speech.

I love making up words, but that is an entirely different matter, I'll have you know.

Lord Wellbourne said...

I do hope June will forgive my interloping but I feel I must address Abraham Lincoln: If a picture's worth a thousand words, then you, sir, speak volumes of profound prose!

Red said...

***ssssssiiiips tea loudly while darting eyes in other direction***

LOVE the Husband/Wife verbal tango. Too funny.

Red said...

Oh, and instead of snob how about "Grammarian".

Barb said...

Hi June, You are allowed to be a Word Snob - that's why I read you. Also, you might try a hair dryer on the frozen pipes - not on your naked husband, though.

June said...

I love you people. You get it. :-)
Some of these responses made me guffaw...and I was sneaking in while I was at work!
And Mr. Lincoln, LW is absolutely correct; if I could take photographs like yours, I wouldn't bother writing.

Kathryn said...

Hi June -

Isn't it funny how we find people. I read Ellen's blog & she wrote of faith & linked to Original Art Studio. In reading comments there i found your comment. It struck quite a chord in my heart & resonated.

I suppose i tend to be a snob about writing, as well. I know i still make mistakes myself & try not to be too critical. I believe i would have written trooper, having never heard of "trouper" before & had to look it up. I follow quite a number of blogs, but if they continually make grammar/spelling mistakes i find myself struggling to relate to the person after a while. I find i become irritated over improper use of words (wrought iron rather than rod iron, & the like), & simple things like "to" & "too" are often misused in blogs. One that bothers me a lot is "Her & her husband." I see this frequently.

How i go on! I'm glad to have found you. And i'm glad i'm not the only one who is irritated by poor language/writing. (Will i drive you nuts with my small case "i s"?)

June said...

No, Kathryn, you won't drive me crazy with your lower case "i"s. I'll just put you in good company with e e cummings. ;-)