Friday, October 30, 2009
Feelin’ Cranky, But Trying to Remain Civil
“Good manners are the grease that makes the wheels of life turn smoothly.” That was a mother-mantra that I endlessly used as my son, Joseph, was in his formative years. Although expressed as a hybridization of the worlds of the prissy and the mechanical engineer, I believed it, and I repeated it: way too many times, he might tell you. I still believe it though. That’s why I am puzzled at the lack of civility which I knee-jerk to exhibit as I age. Even without the excuse of feelin’ poorly, I find myself just getting crankier and crankier. If only I could get that big-eyebrow thing going, I could be Andy Rooney Junior.
More often than not, I find myself just wanting to hop up on my little box and hiss. “What is the matter with you? Why are you saying that?” I have become the self-deputized, pinched-mouthed, bun-wearing, ruler-wielding speech police. Now, correcting people is not “good manners.” I know this, but like Popeye, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!” The breaking point may be just around the corner.
When people say, “PIN number” and “VIN number,” it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. My pedantic internal voice shouts, “Don’t you know that these things are acronyms for Personal Identification Number and Vehicle Identification Number? When you say, ‘PIN number,’ you are saying personal identification number number!” Internally, good manners fly out the window and probably externally, my face contorts and a little groan seeps through my lips. Hearing this idiocy on radio or television rather than in person has one positive advantage. I don’t have to internalize. I am alone. No one sees or hears me. As a relief valve, I can just shout at the delivery mechanism of the offending medium.
Another near-stroke-inducing opportunity is the word nuclear. That’s right! Nuclear! Not “nu-queue-lar.” For crying out loud! Look at how it is spelled. As your mother used to tell you, “Look at the word and sound it out.” That “l” is nearer the beginning than the end!
Then, there is the not so common, but very personal “misspoke:” my birthplace. It’s that city just across the Ohio River at the bottom of central Indiana: Louisville. Settled around the time of the American Revolution, it was named after the French king: Louie, to his friends. Thus, it is Louie-ville, not Lou-ah-ville. There was no King Louah! Get with the program, people! Words matter—nomenclature counts: i.e. “bailout” vs. “rescue package.” Even Congress, not the brightest bulb on the tree, worked through this challenge.
OK! I have lots more, and I’ll bet that you have a bunch too, but I’ll get a grip and just tell you one final, general-use one. So general, in fact, that it was discussed in the “On Language” article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, and what is supposed to be the bastion of correctness, NPR, was cited as an offender. Nobody says, “You’re welcome,” anymore as a response to, “Thank you.” Rejoinders include, “You bet,” “No problem,” and even “No sweat.” Poor old, “You’re welcome,” the long-standing companion of “Thank you,” seems to have been dumped like the trash. Listen to the broadcasts and note this.
Finding cranky-making illustrations is not difficult. There is a boatload of examples out there: more than enough to make a saint cranky. The trick is finding the ability to fix it without resorting to bad manners. And, yes, violence is bad manners.
Thus far, my only solution for treating the problem is to follow the pledge-drive model and try to fix this “one at a time.” Personal example and maybe the occasional mild reproof such as, “free speech is not sloppy speech,” seem uncranky and civil enough, don’t you think? Your polite suggestions of other solutions are welcome.