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Saying what you want

January 8, 2014
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Our English language is now the international standard language, much to the dismay of the French. All airline pilots and air traffic controllers must communicate in English, and so must ship captains, port harbormasters and harbor pilots.

It's a shame, therefore, that we have to murderfy it sometimes. George Carlin scolded us that we didn't have "hot water heaters," we had "cold water heaters." (If we had hot water, we wouldn't need a heater). When airplanes nearly collided, it was not a "near miss," it was a "near hit."

In that spirit, let us review some of the language used when we need attention paid to our cars, or even to our personal lives. Not the saltier language, just the polite but misleading stuff.

- A man at an auto shop says: "It needs a good check-up." This could mean anything from checking the various fluid levels and stopping there, to pulling the wheels and measuring the thickness of the rotors, or doing a compression test on all of the cylinders, or checking the four-wheel alignment. The labor involved could vary from free, to hundreds of dollars, and some people who use this instruction expect to pay, and some expect it to be free. If the man was actually concerned with a strange noise at 70, no check-up done in the bay would locate it. More accurate language is needed here to convey the concerns of the customer and avoid the chasing of multiple wild geese by the technician. The geese will thank you and so will the technician.

- A man at a Hallmark store: "Where are your 'sorry I'm late' cards?" Actually, there should be greeting card stores just for men. We only need one card, which would say: "Sorry I forgot: (check one), Your birthday, Our anniversary.., Christmas.., Your mother's birthday.., or other.., fill in the blank." On second thought, a greeting card store for men might be destined to fail unless it carried funny cards. On third thought, most women don't read comics, and most cartoonists are men, so that might not work either. There must be a difference between the sexes. No matter what you say in this case, you're screwed, so maybe you should just give up and go buy flowers. Include an "I'm sorry" card.

- Back in the service bay, a man says: "Gimme an oil change and grease job." Actually most modern cars have absolutely no places to grease anymore. (There are exceptions, naturally). Less language is needed here. By repeating an old, well worn phrase, he's asking for something he doesn't need.

Then there's the guy in a restaurant who, when asked what he'd like to drink, replies: "ice water." Does he really think the waitress would bring him warm water? Here we're using too much language when asking for something simple. It's probably okay to assume the meal will come on a plate, with silverware and a napkin, without asking for that too.

What is needed, of course, is the accurate vocalization of our concerns, couched in our most diplomatic language, avoiding trite phrases and expecting good results. Well.. "expecting" may be too strong a word here. Actually, it works better to hope for the best and plan for the worst. This language thing gets complicated. I wonder how it would be handled in French? I hear they're pretty good with the ladies, but their car expertise may be limited to the Citroen and the Renault. I don't know about their comics.



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