Say What?

It’s clear to me that something nefarious is happening to our language.

I learned English from the particularly curmudgeonly, ancient, yet eerily sturdy, Miss Brothers. Her teaching style was exceptionally effective and her eraser-pitching arm was spot-on. She was brutal. Miss Brothers retired before students had human rights and parents were happy that someone else was doing the disciplining. Fear motivated me to straight A’s. Many people refer to those times as “the good old days.”

I’m a sociologist, trained to be curious about and be observant of human behavior. The behavior that interests me most these days is how we communicate—or, don’t, as the case may be.

My interest in communication gaffs started innocently enough.

I was using a ladies’ room at a rest stop along Interstate 87 in NY. The woman next to me–a stranger–started to make huffing noises, which I found a bit disconcerting. I continued on with my business at hand hoping she would make it out alive. Then she announced (I say announced because we were the only two people there and the only exchange between us was her huffing and my tinkling—not exactly camaraderie), “There’s nothing I hate worse than flimsy toilet paper!” She was emphatic. She was huffing some more.

My immediate thought was this: Really, there’s nothing you hate worse? Not pepper spray in your eyes or your house burning down or getting kidnapped at gun-point? The thing you hate most in the world is flimsy toilet paper?

I didn’t say a word. I stayed in my stall until Crazy Toilet Paper Lady left the ladies’ room, not wanting to debate the fiasco of substandard tissue products in NYS restrooms. I had places to go, people to see and myself to protect.

She, like so many people, didn’t think about what she was saying. I’m sure she was annoyed that the toilet paper was too thin for her purposes and wadding up a bunch of it was just too much darned trouble, but I can’t believe that of all the possible things in the world that could befall her, fragile toilet paper was tops on her list of calamities. “There’s nothing I hate worse than…” or “There’s nothing I like better than…” are phrases that I had heard and even said commonly. But, for some reason, I really heard how ridiculous that phrase sounded in that restroom while I was peeing.

That incident got me thinking about other phrases or words commonly used but are just as ridiculous or annoying; thus the post “To be honest with you…” was born. From
that, so many like-minded bloggers and readers offered up their “favorite” linguistic annoyances–some I knew all too well, others were new to me. My next post will be a linguistic faux pas list based on those comments. Look for Darkwing Duck. He will be my “Paul Revere” warning the British that the English Errors are coming (thank
you, once again, Sarah Palin).


~ by Lorna's Voice on June 12, 2011.

34 Responses to “Say What?”

  1. Thanks for the positive feedback and I’ll check out your blog as soon as I send this…

  2. Hey, we all do it, you know? Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and comment on this post! Comments like yours just fuel my fire.

  3. Awesome post! I really loved it. Know what I mean?
    I’m afraid I’m guilty of the first two, As to the third, I usually say, “Did that make any sense?” Sometimes, I make myself cringe.

  4. Thanks for your comments and for some more linguistic gripes I will add to my growing list.
    “Word nazi?” What do people who aren’t your friends call you? That seems pretty harsh! Our language needs a few brave souls to point out how it (our languange) is being misused, abused, or kidnapped. There should be laws against such things. Oh, there are–we were supposed to have learned them in grammar school…
    Please check back. I hope you continue to like what you read and thanks for taking the time to comment!

  5. My friends call me the “word nazi”. I try to restrain myself, but I’m sorry, you did not LITERALLY hit the roof — you weren’t anywhere near it. And just how can anything be “hotter than hell”? Think about it. But probably the one that can set me off is “need”, as in “I need to buy a red belt to go with my new pants”. I realize that in the affluence of many young people who have every actual need taken care of, a matching belt may seem like something you (literally) can’t live without, but trust me, kid — you can.

    As for “hate”, people are so wildly extravagant with the word, it amazes me that it has any meaning left at all. If the thing she hates worst is bad toilet paper, I have to wonder what would constitute a “hate crime” — deliberately letting it run out?

    Thanks for an enjoyable blog — I need to check back and read more.

  6. Yes, netspeak/textspeak is on my list, but I need a translator. I’ll have to do some research first because the only two I know are LOL and OMG. I’m sure there is an abbreviation for people like me…and I’ll learn it! Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to read my blog!

  7. Hey, it’s a free country…Well, I suppose that’s debatable, but you may or may not get someone like me saying, “Thanks so much for finally being honest with me!”

  8. Yes, breaking social conventions is fun. The reactions you get are often quite interesting. “How are you?” is really used as “Hi.” I wonder how that began? Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to read my blog!

  9. Well, you’re welcome! It’s nice to make up a bright side to things sometimes, just to make those situations easier.

  10. I had a friend that would always answer “how are you” with “oh, I have cancer” or something of the like, especially when asked it by employees at stores. She found it annoying when people asked “how are you” when they obviously don’t care how you are, so she liked to give them a shocking answer.

  11. To be honest with you, I love using trite phrases.

  12. Oooh, you should cover the rise of text speak next! I see it everywhere, even in graffiti and it winds me up that people are becoming too lazy to use proper spelling of words in everyday situations! 🙂 love these posts! Keep them coming! Ps, Id have done the same if faced with crazy toilet roll lady!

  13. hahaha one more fantastic story! I am not native English speaker but I would give everything to have proper English teacher – ‘supervisor’!! Hopefully she won’t be toilet-paper hater! 😉
    This would be one more favourite story from you at wordpress world! xxxxxxx

  14. I still send out handwritten notes whenever possible. If anything, it forces me to actually write with a pen, not that my penmanship is anything to brag about. There is something about a handwritten note that truly makes it both personal and in my opinion, a lot more genuine. I hope you don’t mind my linking a blog entry I made a while back (I normally don’t pimp out my own blog stuff – sorry) that I felt is apropos of not only comments people make casually, but also comments and sentiments on greeting cards written by supposed professionals for those who seem perfectly unwilling to write a few words of their own:


  15. A terrible saying I had years ago was in response to the question, how are you today. I would always reply “not bad”. The friend that asked me this then replied, what do you mean not bad? Are you good, very good, if not bad are you not good. Of course this could go on and on. So now I reply I am good thank you.

  16. Another thought-provoking post, Lorna. So many things come to mind, but one I ponder is how some people try to be creative when asked, “How are you?” A woman the other day replied to me, “I am sufficient!” I was speechless at the time. Now I realize I should have said, “Well, bless your heart.”

  17. Hey, congrats on joining in on the fun! Thanks for the encouragement and keep me posted on my posts!

  18. Any phrase followed by “but” is a hammer-dropper! Great observation. “I really like your dress, but …” You know what’s coming NOT more complements about your appearance!

  19. It’s is like the comedian Jon Reep said, ” I love him dearly, but he beats dogs, with kittens” After I love him or her dearly you know the hammers is going to fall.
    Nice post

  20. When I hear celebrities, especially comics, say “I love you” to their audiences, I cringe. What they mean is “I’m happy that you paid money to see me or laughed at my jokes.” Yes, we have stripped the glorious meaning of words like love and awesome by overusing them and using the in inappropriate ways–like an “awesome cheese sandwich!” Of course, someone could be incredibly inspired to the point of rapture by a well-made cheese sandwich…I’n vegan, so I have my doubts. But you never know.

  21. During a very short stint in a Methodist church choir, I heard one soprano say to another, “The alto section couldn’t find a note if it landed in their laps, bless their souls.” One of the sopranos was always flat; the other was always sharp. I sat between them, bless my heart.

  22. I’ve heard that phrase said in reverence at wakes and funerals, but I know what you mean. It can also be used passive-aggressively. “She could figure out a way to burn water water, bless her heart.”

  23. So true! Thanks for your comment and the observation that maybe, just, maybe, that woman had lived the kind of charmed life that made flimsy toilet paper a bon a fide horror. May we all be so fortunate!

  24. I love to get a hand-written note and I send them once in an while, too. You’re right, the art of writing is being corrupted by abreviations and the instant gratification of instant, short messages. Don’t get me started on Twitter–I’ll sound like a twit!

  25. This may or may not be my most favorite comment of all time! Thanks and I love your sense of humor!

  26. You did it again. You made me chuckle with this memory. Keep up the great work. Cyber-sis

  27. We overuse the words “love” and “awesome” as well. I mean, really, you “love” a grilled cheese sandwich? Does a movie really inspire awe in you the same way the Grand Canyon does?

  28. Caseyclifford, my comment got garbled by the html translator, so I’ll try again.

    I always thought the appropriate grammatical syntax for the Southern Backhand slap is, ” (insert a descriptive and cutting insult here), bless his/her little heart! ” 🙂

  29. Caseyclifford, I always thought the appropriate grammatical syntax for the Southern Backhand slap was, “, bless his/her little heart!” 🙂

  30. I always get nervous when I hear “God bless his/her soul.” I expect some snark to follow. That’s no blessing in my book.

  31. Sensational post, really lovely writing and your comments suggest the same.

    By the way, I have a new post up about deserving more credit, I would love any thoughts and comments to give me something to work on.



  32. At least she didn’t say that flimsy toilet paper was “the worst thing ever”. Perhaps her life is so great and full of joyful things that flimsy toilet paper is indeed the thing she hates most. But I sincerely hope she doesn’t think it’s the worst thing in the world.

    “The worst thing ever” (and all variations thereof) is melodramatic, and always leads me to ask, really? That’s the worst thing ever? Worse than slavery, or starving children, or nuclear explosions, or someone lighting a puppy on fire? Flimsy toilet paper is your choice for the worst thing that has been or will be? If that’s true, than I clearly don’t understand the scale that “the worst thing ever” is set on. That thing must be more convoluted than the pain scale.

  33. Don’t we all catch ourselves saying things that we would rather we hadn’t? I have several pet hates, but “he turned around and said” is still at the top of my list along with AKS instead of ask. Our language is not being served well by twitter or texting where we all shorten out of necessity. Perhaps it did us good to write a letter by hand, then out a stamp on it and more importantly, wait for a week for a reply. Instant gratification, and the destruction of our language seem inevitable.

  34. This post is the best. Just like your last post. Doh! Those pesky superlatives. How about if I said this is my favorite post. But the last one is my favorite too. And well, so are all the other posts. Can they all be my most favorite?

    And don’t get me started on the use of the term literally… 🙂

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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