P.J. O’Rourke said, “Don’t send funny greeting cards on birthdays or at Christmas. Save them for funerals, when their cheery effect is needed.”
* Instead of “Hello,” or “How are you?” why not ask this question instead: “Are you happy?” If someone calls you out for it, tell them you recently adjusted your medications. Only brave souls and people who would be awesome at parties will linger after that justification.
The obvious “is happiness the goal of life” nonsense aside, anything that catches a person’s ear beats the usual boring salutation. (Even yodeling, if you like that sort of thing. Just don’t take lessons if the instructor accepts coupons for his tutelage.)
Those who know me hear me say “Terrible!” frequently when someone asks, “How are you?” I often get a genuine laugh from it, especially if I ham it up in tone or volume. Hell, to be honest, I usually laugh first. It’s a spoiler alert at that point. Indeed, many people don’t notice the content of my response. That’s okay. It’s unreasonable to expect most people to notice anything unusual in the scope of an otherwise fill-in-the-blank moment. There’s probably a generalized indictment of society in there somewhere – but you won’t see me making it. (And not just because I detest the word “indictment.” Put the ‘dite’ in there, already.) We’re busy people, on the way to do essential things and argue on the internet about things that don’t affect us in any meaningful way.
By way of experiment, you should try it for yourself. “Terrible!” should be your response. Make it exaggerated. Enough people will laugh for you to be able to say, “I made you laugh.”
Only a real asshole resents a laugh. Lucky for us, most of them work retail.
(I wrote the above quote as a marketing ploy. It seems to be accurate, much in the same way that no matter how many times you nibble on someone’s ear, it is always one time too few.)
Also, if my day, year, or life is temporarily or permanently terrible, it’s unwise to unload that fact onto others needlessly. You’re supposed to save those moments to inflict on your close personal friends and family. That’s what they get for staying inside your orbit. If you read that without realizing it was peckishly funny, you need to switch to decaffeinated coffee.
If you’re feeling adventurous, use “Not hello” in place of “Goodbye” and “Not goodbye” for “Hello.” Other languages have words that mean both “goodbye” and “hello.” If you’re a fan of the phrase, “Good day” can mean both in modern English, even if no one will immediately understand it in both contexts.
If none of those methods suit you, I propose that all your salutations use ONLY consonants. (Sorry, Finland.) If you think that would be hard to do, imagine the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, which has 820 living languages.
If you don’t believe words can work magic and light your mind with fire, consider this: “The problem with sex in the movies is that the popcorn usually spills.”
Since I always work this joke into these conversations, you can also adopt one I stole from a comedian. He says, “DiGiorno,” like the pizza brand, to say both “hello” and “goodbye.” Though the joke is old now, I still laugh most of the time when I use it. I said “DiGiorno” to a doctor this morning, much to my amusement. I’m not sure what he thought I said, but he replied, “Same to you!” with a grin. I’m hoping that it worked itself into his subconscious, and he later opted for pizza for lunch.
One of the things on my bucket list is to be on a ship that’s sinking. I’m going to run up to the Captain and ask him which lifeboat is the non-smoking one.
Back to the “Are you happy?” premise.
I think if you make eye contact and use it enough, you’ll eventually get an answer that is so honest that it surprises you. You might learn something about another person. For example, you might also learn that the person is nuts. But that’s something.
So, I ask you: Are you happy?
I’ll stop and listen either way. I’m hoping you are, and that ridiculous things like the one you’re reading can trigger a smile in your heart. That’s where you spend most of your day, anyway, listening to the narrative of your internal voice. Say “Not hello” to that voice and say something creative and ridiculous to those around you.
It’s 2020. Normal was evicted and displaced by whatever we choose to put there.
P.S. “The last thing I want to do is insult you. But it IS on the list.” – Anonymous
Such a facile word, one rapid syllable. It is supposed to mean “expressing discomfort, surprise, or dismay.” Generally, it also is used to convey a gut-punch or calamity. A recent copyright dispute brought up the previous and singular connotation for the word.
As happens in life, the word transitioned for me without my recognizing it. It was an incremental change until the lever sprung, and it suddenly acquired a different meaning, much in the same way you peer into the eyes of someone you’ve known and see a depth that you’d skirted around unknowingly.
Oof: a sudden emotional reaction, usually characterized by intense pleasure or divination.
The word now carries a paralyzing and gossamer overtone for me.
I’ll ask you to whisper the word internally, in a quiet moment. Find a place, person, or time in your guarded heart of memories and say the word as you vividly remember it. If you pay homage sufficiently, you’ll be able to see “oof” in the same way.
The word is mine now.
It is shorthand for the unuttered but not unfelt contagion of bliss or glimpse of what lies beneath.
The title of this post popped into my head as I ran from work today. All of us have our struggles. I catch myself in surprise by the dusk in my head. Though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, I’d walked across the parking lots and sidewalks in the rain, still wearing my mask. It was an absurd moment. “Lost in my thoughts” doesn’t begin to describe the floorless circumstance of my mind. If you’re lucky, you’ve had meditative moments of selflessness like that. In dense moments, they often save us from what streams in our heads.
Ricardo Arjona recently released another album. One of the songs, “El Amor Que Me Tenía,” among others, hit me like an anvil. I learned a lot of poetry and vocabulary from Arjona. He’s known for his turn of phrase. It fundamentally resonates with me. Musicians like him broke open the capacity in me to see beyond language. If Spanish were to become my primary language, I would devote myself to speaking like Ricardo Arjona writes his music, no matter how perplexed people become. I find myself wishing we spoke English the same way, too, but it is difficult to find anyone interested and willing to spend the day deconstructing the absurdity and content of what we say. (Yes, such a willingness is one of the things by which I evaluate a person. Those who demonstrate such an interest won’t ever be disappointed by circumstance.)
One of my co-workers from another department is an avid Arjona fan, too. He got excited when he realized that I had the new album. It amazes him that a gringo like me can appreciate such musicians’ subtle capture in his native language. I brought it, and though we don’t overlap many hours a week at work, I played it on the computer/jukebox I rebuilt at work. Today, my co-worker returned briefly to pick up something. He asked me to put “El Amor Que Me Tenía” on again. I did and increased the volume in the vast space to the point that the angels trembled. I left him there in the back of the room. As the song started, he sat and listened with the rapt attention of one enthralled. It’s rare to see another adult so rapturously engage with a song. When the song ended, he stayed seated for the next song. He emerged from the shadowy area in the back and looked reinvigorated. Whatever it is in that song, it found its way inside him. We now have a shorthand we can use to connect to that kind of music and message.
Whatever the moment with his immersion in the song was, it is a shame that we don’t have such moments several times a day. They ground us in our humanity, and in the parts of our lives we let slide from our grasp. *
P.S. “This amazing story was brought to you by me.” (A line I felt obligated to steal from a winsome writer.)
After decades of watching people, I can share an obvious secret with you.
People don’t work to learn another language because it exposes us to our ignorance. It’s not because they’re lazy. They are nervous or scared. If you find someone who doesn’t fear their ignorance being on display as it diminishes, keep that person in your life. They are rare. All of us start from complete ignorance for every language. When we already know one before starting a new one, what we think we know trips us like an endless bucket of banana peels.
If you are lucky enough to speak English as a first language, trust me when I tell you that you won the lottery without purchasing a ticket. Please do everything in your power to forgive others as they struggle with the mess we’ve made of our language. Please take a second and consider that they’re using another language. I know that the necessity of needing to speak or write another language ADDS pressure to those in that position and adds difficulty. Whether it is the case for you, I’m an idiot if a proverbial gun is to my head.
Also, if your accent is remotely like mine, you might sound a bit weird. As the old joke says, the last thing you want to hear your brain surgeon say is, “Y’all are going to be alright.” I’ve butchered so many words that I should have a Dexter spinoff. One thing some don’t know about me, though, is that language is a melody that excites me, and when I find myself forgetting what once was at my disposal, I feel a bit of loss.
For language, all any reasonable person is going to ask is that you try. It helps to be able to laugh at yourself. People learning other languages is a joy to witness. There’s no better comparison than observing a child conquer something complex; mastery soon seems inevitable. Laughter and self-observance is a considerable part of a good learning plan.
Yes, people don’t take the time, that’s true. With a couple of other people before, I proved to them that a person could learn a LOT of another language by just learning one word a day. Like all learning, words begin to associate, stick to another, and create grooves in your brain that you might even realize have formed, in the same way lyrics fall surprisingly from your lips. You’ll soon learn phrases, insults, and wit. Anyone lucky enough to hit the milestone of laughing at a joke that isn’t directly translatable experiences a deep satisfaction at having done so. For me, I will never forget the abstract joy of telling my Sarge/Lieutenant On the Edge of The Prairie joke in Spanish.
Most of us only use around 800 different words a day. I’m not talking about Tiffany or Jessica, who seems to rattle off 800 a minute. They only use four different words, and two of them are both the word “like.” Sorry, Tiffany.
Truthfully, it is not the words per se that create difficulty for us. It’s the connecting words and the ridiculous verb tenses we allow in our language. If you can overcome your initial fear, you can communicate a lot of information using words as a toddler does. You don’t need the word “sublime” in your vocabulary during a typical day – nor do you need to master the future perfect tense, subjunctive or otherwise, in either English or the language you are learning.
I know there are people out there who have always toyed with the idea of another language. If you learn nothing else from me, please hear this: if I can get to a decent level of mastery, anyone can. Even if you only remember a few words, those few words will push your mind outside of its normal limits.
As a bona fide imperfectionist, I’ve spent time over the last couple of years preaching the futility of the bulk of our spelling and grammar rules. I’ve observed many lashings regarding language. One reason I’m careful of such hypocrisy is that we all make spectacular errors. Even using a professional version of Grammarly, I have to laugh at some of the glaring bits of stupidity that amazingly went past my eyeballs. Given that our language is needlessly complex on multiple levels, it’s a bit outlandish to presume you’re not making errors.
You are. We notice.
I’m throwing a caution flag at people who nitpick irrelevant errors of presentation.
I had a list of examples to include with this post. I opted to forego it though, in part because those wearing the badge of grammar police seldom have a light-hearted sense of humor about it.
As for me, I don’t mind when people point out I’ve made an error. They’re going to need a lot of free time though, given the volume of my nonsense and my lack of regard for errors when I make them.
People sometimes ask me why I named my original blog “P.S. Parenthetically Speaking.” It currently resides at my own website, xteri.me
First, if you’re reading the written language, it’s safe to skip over anything contained inside parentheses. (Weirdly enough, if you’re doing math, the portion inside the parentheses is vitally important.) My blog was designed as a ‘take it or leave it’ valve for my life. I’m not curing disease or mapping the most efficient economic system in my posts.
Second, ‘P.S.’ is an afterthought and also able to be skipped without too much harm to the content. When letters were the rage, a ‘P.S.’ in a personal letter usually contained fond sentiments or a personal note to close the letter.
Third, most adults can’t spell the words parenthetically, parentheses, or daiquiri. (The last word, in particular, and especially if one’s been imbibing.)
Finally, I liked the idea of someone attempting to speak parenthetically. I’m not sure if this would entail them making wide arm brackets as they spoke. One of my fascinations with language is the disparity and complexity of the written language versus the spoken one. We spend much more of our lives speaking than we do reading or writing; yet, we’ve allowed our language to be our master.
I still see many posts about manners and etiquette. One of them that invariably makes the lists: “Always use a person’s last name until you know them well enough or they say it is okay to use another.”
One big problem with etiquette is that it’s based on past customs and behavior. Additionally, across cultures, countries, and societies, etiquette demands vary wildly.
It’s hard for some people to imagine, but there are quite a few people whose entire legal name consists of one name. Also, it is no social faux pas to have trouble attempting to remember or pronounce many of the world’s names. We should stop beating up on one another when no malice was intended, even as we botch names in our daily lives. Some names are akin to a mouthful of consonants and live crickets.
The ongoing attempt to insist that there is a single method of etiquette and politeness is absurd and almost bigoted. If you live inside a regimented or closed society, perhaps it is possible to assume that there might be one infallible way to ensure you’re behaving according to a particular imaginary list of societal demands. Otherwise, it’s a rodeo out there in the world.
Using a person’s last name requires you to know whether they’re married, male or female, and a couple of other variables. (Unless you’re a barbarian and saunter around calling people strictly by their last names, such as “Johnson!” or “Gonzalez.”) Ms., Mrs. ma’am, and Mr. are not the simple labels they once were.
Whether the older generation agrees or not, we’re changing the way we use titles and pronouns – and in ways they never imagined. It’s presumptuous to assume we know the other person’s pronoun or marital status. As I rapidly approach dinosaur status myself, I find myself needing to learn new manners and ways to extract my foot from my mouth. I strive to stop thinking that I ‘know’ the rules that are emerging in life. I don’t, precisely because the rules are a moving target.
We’re all equal. Using a person’s first name does not reveal a lack of respect or an overdeveloped sense of familiarity with the other person. It does, however, demonstrate that we are capable of unilaterally agreeing that a person’s name is, in fact, the label with which they identify. If the person in question wishes to be called an alternate name, they should politely say so. It would also help if people stopped using names as vanity devices or as ammunition in conversations. It’s worth noting that it’s bad form to call someone by a different name or label after they’ve asked you to use another one in their regard.
If we are introduced to someone as ‘Mark Hemmington,’ the only other argument to be made is that we should address them by their full name. That’s a bit unwieldy. Why not insist on using their entire legal name, even if it an absurd array of three, four, or five names? I’m one of the smart ones. I have two names, both spelled phonetically, and only have a surname from necessity. My name is the same in public, on my birth certificate, and on my identification. I don’t use nicknames, titles, or further naming devices to confound those around me. Some people indeed use some rather base nicknames in my regard; that’s another issue.
I don’t mean disrespect if I fail to use an expected title. It’s more comfortable as a society to accept a default of no harm or ill will intended.
I don’t kneel to royalty and don’t consider a senator or president to be anything other than an elected employee we collectively chose to do a job as our representative. Judges are legal experts, not demi-gods of virtue. Police aren’t officers; they are public servants whose dangerous and complicated jobs give them the authority and responsibility to keep us safe. Anyone in those professions who angrily demand conformity or obedience in regards to their title needs to remember humility as a virtue.
I have learned to distrust anyone with a reverence for titles.
I don’t call my personal physician “Doctor.” Financial transactions don’t require an element of inequality. I’m thankful that doctors are well-trained and able to help me. I’m paying for that service – and it is their job. Until the day we call all occupations by their respective vocational title, I think it’s objectionable to anyone to demand the title before their name. Carpenter Joe. Plumber Jim. Teacher Jill. All trained professionals. We need doctors desperately, but we also need people to pick up our trash, fix our vehicles, and keep us from drowning in sink water.
As always, I don’t expect my arguments to be perfect. I don’t defend these ideas with a fiery passion. I do, however, know there’s a strong element of truth running through the points I’ve made in this post.
As a person with a peculiar name and an aversion to bending a knee to titles, I watch in keen observation as society struggles with our out-dated naming conventions.