Stuff of words

Harry Drabik

Maybe there are words or phrases used that give you pause. I don’t mean a loaded or PC expression that might trigger racist (upgraded from discriminating against) or hater (an increase from I object) labeling for such assaults (stepped up from offenses lifted above insults). Those forms of social blasphemy need special attention and chapters to themselves; challenges I don’t have time or scope for here. I mean everyday usages that deserve to be called to question or simply discouraged.  

How often have you been in mixed company at an eatery where a wait-person smilingly asks “How are you guys doing today?” If half your company is clearly not dressed as guys and has gone to efforts of hair and makeup well beyond the abilities and standards of the typical “guy” the group designation is a simplistic downgrade implying that a bunch of guys requires a lesser level of service than the server would give a gathering of ladies. What I complain of is (you don’t have to tell me) a minor thing, but it suggests an attitude of minimal service saying “I’ll smile at an be nice to this bunch so I’ll get a tip for doing a job I don’t care about for people I can’t be bothered to identify accurately.” The wait person who starts out addressing a mixed group as guys is also announcing a minimal level of attention while (of course) seeking a max level of gratuity. They are optimistic to an extreme when performing so for me.  

If, as I suspect you had no difficulty doing, you quickly pictured dozens of situations where a wait person lazily used guys to paint those wishing to be served then you are perfectly poised for the next verbal annoyance a poorly trained wait person is almost sure to employ in hope of appearing interested in the patron’s satisfaction. Looking for that bigger tip the wait person pauses briefly to beam “How’s your food tasting?” Let me say I have some sympathy for those who struggle with the pesky participle and its often wily ways. But this problem is a curable one, and by the time one is earning bread and board among the public an individual should have struggled her/his or guys way up from Grade 5 grammar and know by heart it is ignorant to apply tasting as something food does. A food does not leave its plate to get a taste of other meals at the table and the odds are huge that most every food we consume has at no time in its existence has tasted anything. Corn does not go around tasting things, and a beef steak comes from the part of a beef missing an ability to taste anything. Oh, there are reasonable questions a wait person can ask a patron about their meal. “How’s your food tasting” is not one of those choices.  

Another of the phrases that grates is blissful use of “check it out” as a meaningful activity with a valid result. As a minimal level of attention or by accident “check it out” might do OK, but the issue lies deeper in the assumption that an analysis and thoughtful conclusion is had supermarket fashion by checking something out. Pass it by the bar code reader, pay, and go. Check it out is what twitter people say when twitting the deeper meanings of shoe buckle sizes or earring dangle. It seems a largely social or socializing phrase. If I was in a facility where I just had an X Ray or scan and a scrub-suited “guy” with tattooed hands said they’d checked out my case I’d be inclined to put modesty away (you know the kind of hospital gown I mean) and run as if I were on fire because if it’s my X Ray I want it carefully read by an experienced person who shows clear signs of professionalism. Maybe it is perfectly good and possibly even an improvement to have a clinical staff appear and act as if they are pausing a bit between appointments at a tat parlor and workout sessions, but I think I prefer an ethic stressing professionalism over self-indulgence.  

I’m also set back on my heels by statements and slogans so overblown if have the feeling I’m seeing Communist or Nazi era propaganda emblazoned on a wall for the masses to heed. The example I’ll give from a public school wall will sound innocent but I think it is not only an empty promise akin to saying “Santa’s on her/his way kiddos,” but is more importantly dangerously misleading. Believers in the cult might possibly see nothing amiss or even see the phrase as positively inspiring.

I suggest taking a longer look at touting “SUCCESS FOR ALL.” Why, you ask, do I question so noble a goal? I see it a Santa, Tooth Fairy promise impossible to keep and unrealistic (possibly counterproductive) in the expectation it excites. We could look at the statement as inspirational, but it is also darkly stupid to promise what cannot be given. Not everyone will be successful. Success cannot be granted. It has to be worked for, and even if you strive toward it to your best it may elude you or fall happenstance on another. Seeming to guarantee a result is more the positing of a falsehood than it is giving an honest assessment.

Being prepared to not succeed is probably of more use because most won’t pop out of school to become a CEO or sports star earning gobillions. If I’m asked, I’d say success would be a hell of a bore. It’s the struggle to get through, over, and around that makes for a dynamic and potent life. Success is a possible end game, one that often ruins those who find it or expect it too soon in life to know what on earth to do with it and how to use it. SUCCESS FOR ALL is best tossed aside. Replace it with THRIVE THROUGH STRUGGLE as a motto sit for adult use.