1st rule when I’m dictator: Everybody be polite

Tacoma News TribuneFebruary 10, 2014 

AL BARTLETT

PETER HALEY — Staff photographer Buy Photo

Although the environment most of us find ourselves in might not be exactly what we’d prefer, we still have to live in it as best we can. Since we aren’t dictators, we can’t always have things our way.

But what’s wrong with wishing we could? Can’t we fantasize, just for a moment, that we’re Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan … maybe even Chris Christie?

I know I can, and one thing I’d change is conversation etiquette.

I’ll begin with what I consider the most annoying verbal transgression. Since I’d be a dictator, I would have a willow switch and a ready tick on the ear for two or more people insisting on talking simultaneously.

TV’s “Face the Nation” is a prime example. Often the entire panel is running off at the mouth at the same time. (The host’s name is Stephanopoulos — consider yourself warned.)

Next, there’s that annoying matter of interrupting. My rule of thumb is that if one has gotten four words into the sentence, he or she should be allowed to finish without being cut off.

Another irritation is to ask a question of one person — and another insists on answering.

I grind my teeth when one jumps in to explain, “What he’s trying to say … .” He’s not trying to say anything — He is saying it, and if what he’s saying doesn’t suit the interpreter, that’s another issue. My happy willow switch would pay them all a visit.

A lesser offense is excessive nodding of the head in an attempt to drive home a point. Derisive laughter is another. I find them both distracting. Answering a question with a question is also annoying.

Then there’s pronoun drift: “What are WE doing?” Or, “How are WE doing?” Since when am I obligated to be part of your “we”?

I detest patronage. Once I had a button with a smiley face and the inscription, “Thank you for not saying ‘Have a nice day.’” I wish I could find it; I’d wear it all the time. Maybe I’ll have some made up. A simple “Thank you” would be refreshing.

Then there’s the waiter who regurgitates, “Enjoy.” First, it’s bad grammar. Second, it doesn’t mean anything. I already intended to enjoy, didn’t I? I certainly didn’t go there to be abused.

Then there are the cutesy words: “athleticism,” “drinkability,” “physicality,” “escapability,” “importantly,” etc.

I hate it when I ask for someone’s name in a whisper, and the answer comes back so loud that he or she can hear it across the room, blowing away my attempt to pretend that I knew the name all along.

Nowadays, the new reference euphemisms exasperate me. We’re well rid of such offensive terms as “Siamese twins” and “Mongoloid idiots.” But the other day, I asked a lady if she were Indian. She replied indignantly that she was Native American. I suppose that makes me German-English American. I could probably add Native to it too, because my dad was from Oklahoma, and what Okie wasn’t part Cherokee?

How about “uptitling”? There’s no such thing as stewardess anymore; there’s a flight attendant. A secretary is an administrative professional. That sub is now a guest teacher.

I’m well aware that these verbal hang-ups of mine are certain to put some readers asleep, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. What’s that? I think I hear someone snoring.

Al Bartlett of Gig Harbor, a retired teacher and farmer, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email him at albert.bartlett@comcast.net.

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