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).