Tuesday, January 30, 2007

That's a Wrap!

Manufacturers of all kinds of consumer products think their customers are blithering idiots. They have to make that assumption, and as a technical writer I understand why. If a seventy-million-against-one odds accident happens, they might be liable for something, so they have to be proactive to prevent any possible calamity. And so we constantly find interesting tidbits of important helpful advice in places we'd never expect:

I apologize for the poor visibility. But this is a dishwasher-soap-tablet wrapper that, in its very small space, is riddled with warning. My personal favorite is: "Remove wrapper before use." Sigh. I will. And then I'll eat the tablet. That's how you're supposed to use it, right? Because it doesn't warn me that I shouldn't.


Sales Pitch

A few weeks ago a new local car-dealership ad started coming on during daytime TV. Typical of local, low-budget ads, it is loud and unconvincing. This one has a twist, however--and it's a pitch I've never heard from a boorish car salesman before. At the end of the ad, an irritating woman, clearly not a professional ad person, appears as narrator and says, or reads,
Come on down to Bob's Dodge. He just wants to get you a loan.
I was not looking at the screen the first time I heard this. So, to me, just listening, it sounded like, "He just wants to get you alone!" The next time the ad came on, I saw that the words were printed. But, still. Like I'm gonna run on down to Bob's Dodge so he can get me alone.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Anybody Have a Calendar?

A couple of nights ago I rummaged around in the veg bin to pull out an onion to chop for a dish I was making. I had just bought the onion a couple of days prior. To my surprise, this is how it looked:

Yo! Mr. [or Ms.?] Onion! Dude!! It's January! It's not spring!

Apparently all the tubers have been talking to each other in code and launching a conspiracy. The daffodils by the front porch and the mail box are trying to come up. Martha Stewart, the girl I love to hate, says to un-confuse the bulbs by burying them in more and more mulch. With all due respect, this seems to me to be just a facile coverup. The little green shoots are still under there, they just have farther to go to see sun. [I'd better not lose my iris, or I'll be hopping mad!]

The squirrels are all going crazy digging around for the nuts they only just buried. And, instead of going somewhere else for winter, the birds seem to have proliferated and are blowing the bird-feeder budget. Even the big, bully blue jays are loitering for a handout, especially on or near the hopper feeder, which is supposed to close when big birds land on it (but jays are smart and have figured out how to defeat this safety feature). This is perfectly fine with the squirrels, who hang around beneath the feeders waiting for discards and spills.

Kid #1 is about to finish an extra-credit project for science. His subject? Global warming. We're about to watch the Al Gore movie. I've been trying to put it off because I know it will depress me profoundly, but there's no point in leaving my head stuck in the sand. Blatant signs are all over the place anyway.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Whaddya Call That Thing?

My mind has finally reached critical mass regarding the number of names I can remember for this thing. I'm so overwhelmed with choices that if I have occasion to actually call it something, I sputter and stutter with the word-finding and mix the words up. "Go get a trart . . . uh . . . basgon."

When I was growing up as a fourth-generation Californian, the local term for it was "shopping cart" or even "basket." All of my family called it these two terms (perhaps encountering the multiplicity of terms at such an early age set the stage for my eternal confusion), and for many years I felt confident that that was what it was. It was either a cart or a basket. Then I started moving around the country and even overseas, and got all discombobulated.

When I had to start shopping for my own groceries, I learned there was another kind of basket, too, the small, hand-held kind rather than the big wire kind with wheels and a kiddie seat. So I was struck with the conundrum of what I needed on any given shopping trip: a basket, or a basket? That was when I commited myself to calling the wheeled thing a cart and the hand-held thing a basket, lest I myself become a basket case.

When I moved to Bristol, UK, and visited the Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda supermarket chains, my terminology was soundly corrected. The item immediately became a "trolley," and the term "shopping cart" was expunged. I had already forgotten "basket" except for the hand-held kind. My son, G, was about to turn four and insisted on rushing to get a trolley and "driving" it. Actually, it was riding. But since he was not very tall, he could not see where he was going. One time we went to Tesco and he grabbed a trolley and literally ran off with it. Impetuous and hyper, he pushed off with the back foot, got a good speed going, and because the trolley was still empty, his weight overwhelmed its back end and it tipped right back. He fell directly onto the floor, flat on his back, with the trolley handle still in his hands and the upended trolley pinning him. Some hours later he realized he'd injured his back, and even ten years later he still occasionally complains about back pain. He attributes this to the time the trolley fell on him. When we returned to the States I had a hard time getting rid of "trolley," and still use it often. If I take G to the grocery store here in the States, the two of us always refer to the thing as a trolley; it seems we have a traumatic tie to the word and it arrives on the tips of our tongues naturally, as an understood fact, with no hesitation.

When our family goes to visit the grandparents in Upstate New York, we do a lot of grocery shopping at our favorite chain, Wegmans (oh, how I wish we had Wegmans here in CT! I miss you, Wegmans!). As we approach the entrance, Grandma reminds us to "get a 'wagon'." This one always throws me for a loop. And I overhear other shoppers murmuring about wagons. To me, the word "wagon" calls up images of hardy pioneers crossing the prairie. Somehow it just doesn't work for me. I think of the exclamation, "Circle the wagons!" and that seems silly in a grocery store context.

Now that I'm in CT, the term has changed yet again. In my town, people refer to the wheeled thing as a "carriage." Sometimes there's a "carriage" return in the parking lot (LOL, I'm a throwback to the typewriter age; I can get away with saying this!) Unfortunately for my confusion, sometimes there's a "shopping cart" return. And at our local chain, Stop & Shop (a chain which I truly deplore relative to Wegmans), there's no place to return the vehicles at all, no matter what you prefer to call them.

I think it's interesting that the web has universalized the name for this thing. If you're shopping online, have you ever encountered a "shopping trolley," a "wagon," or a "carriage"? I'll bet not. But the local terms for the physical object, as opposed to the virtual thing, remain entrenched in their respective cultures.

Perhaps what I should do is take my kids' actual wagon to the grocery store, and then I would finally, consistenly, know what I was wheeling around.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New Year's Overhearings

Sorry to report that the great tradition of English linguistic foolishness didn't end with the ball drop at Times Square.

This time, I'm finally tattling on myself first, instead of on other people. I know! Lil' ol' me? I never make these faux pas.

Honey was in the family room sitting at the computer Saturday morning, presumably looking at flight availability. I was in the kitchen listening to my favorite radio programs on NPR. He hollered to me,
How do you spell 'Phoenix'?

I had no idea that was what he was asking me. I was listening intently to Carl Kasell and Paula Poundstone and Roy Blount exchanging snippets of hilarious anti-political, andti-mainstream- media banter in the "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" quiz.

I thought he said, instead,
How do you spell 'Kleenex ® '?

Not a bit taken aback that Honey would have a reason for spelling such a thing (a grocery list, perhaps?), I proceeded to spell it for him. K-L-E-E-N-E-X. The Tyke cracked up.

And one more. This recently in from a frequent contributor, a mom friend:
We were making tea with hot water from our new tea pot this afternoon. Mine had been steeping for a while and I noticed Daughter's was still on the counter. I called her into the kitchen to get it and said, "It'll be pretty strong." She said, "It's good when it's steeper." I asked, "Don't you mean stronger?" She said, "No, you don't strong your tea, you steep it." Hard to argue with that logic even if it really doesn't make any sense.....

And, finally, I'm going to tattle on myself again. A while ago I wrote a Pedantic Rant about a pseudo-construction that drives me mad. Well, the other day I caught myself saying to myself in my mind the following as I was picking a morsel of detritus up off the floor:
I picked something up off the floor that I didn't know what it was.
That's exactly the construction the Rant was about! Help me!

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

. . . and don't y'all forget to eat your Blackeye Peas for a lucky 2007 before you taste anything else on New Year's Day!