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Sara...

  • ...is a happy, ordinary, middle-aged, suburban woman who paints odd pictures, gardens in a straw hat, lives with the love of her life, is owned by one cat and the ghosts of several others, and walks a little funny 'cause she has a fake leg. She started this website because there's more to life than what we lose, and we need to let each other know what's possible, even if it's only a happy, ordinary life.

November 2011

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alphabitch

Some good questions here, my friend. I don't know what it is, but I realized I needed to let some of it go from my own head when I was working a cash register many many years ago, and a young man came up to the counter with a crumpled dollar bill and said, 'can you make me, like, change for a dollar?' and I said, 'what don't you like about it?' And it was clear he had absolutely no clue what I meant, and just wanted change for the bus. It made me feel mean and petty, even though the guy behind him thought it was hilarious.

It's still sometimes an effort not to correct all these things; it feels sometimes as if it's hard-wired into my circuits.

Sara

It feels that way to me, too, though I question it when I remember kind of being conditioned to anticipate, accept, and mimic this behavior from my parents. And doing that sort of thing amiably, kind of wisecrackingly, is even part of how I recognize members of my own tribe, you know? But then when I do it out of genuine irritation or some genuine sense of being wronged or endangered or that the person I am "correcting" will be doomed in some way or will singlehandedly ruin The Culture if s/he doesn't heed my rightness, especially if the person in question is most distinctly not from my tribe, not even any neighboring tribe, I have to wonder why I care.

Language is a living thing, right? And I know this, and I know that "living" means "constantly changing." I also know that there is more than one perfectly viable way to do almost everything, and certainly that "different" doesn't necessarily mean "wrong," and even when it does, that it isn't always signifier of a cataclysm or an abomination. So knowing all that as well as I -- and so many people I love and respect -- do, what is the point of being so bothered that we must point out these tiny inconsistencies with our own personal visions of correctness? There must be some point! Mustn't there?

And then some days, like today when I spent a good five minutes walking around my approximately 13' x 14' studio looking for my artificial leg and wondering where I'd left it (oh yes, really), I wonder who the hell I am to be correcting anybody, ever, about anything. You know?

Bipolarlawyercook

Hmm. Lots of food for thought, here. I too will correct people's grammar or phraseology, but it infuriates me when others correct me, so I'm trying to just not do it except in contexts where I am officially allowed to teach, edit, correct. And . . . the primary "corrector" in my family has eventually stopped, despite the pedantic compulsion, since I started continuously responded with "And yet, I have a job and a happy marriage. How do I do it?" It might have hurt their feelings for a bit, but they were hurting mine, too.

Sara

Of course, BLC, in your career, words matter to a seriously nitpickety degree. (I know because I worked for lawyers in various capacities for 18 years up and down the west coast, starting when I went to work as a teenager in my father's little solo practice that he started when he tried to change careers in his '50s.) Do you think you were drawn to the career because of a predilection to care about such things in the first place? I know I was.

The people I fear are miserable are the ones who seem unable to shut it off, ever, and who are not just concerned with niceties of linguistics, but with the details of every action anyone else ever seems to take, whether it affects them directly or not.

But maybe they're really fine. Maybe this is what they're supposed to be doing, and they'd be miserable if they stopped.

krishanna

Hmmm... you know... you and I are often on the same wavelength. I can't remember the last time someone corrected me and I have opportunities often to correct people with the pronunciation of my name. But I don't. In the grand scheme of things, that they call me "Kri-SHAWNA" instead of "Krish-ANNA" is really only a matter of a few letters.. LOL However, people with whom I regularly interact that routinely mispronounce my name will get a correction...usually something good-natured like "Krishanna rhymes with banana, not banawna". IF they STILL don't get it after after a few times, I roll my eyes, mutter, "Dumbass" under my breath and slowly back away.
Heh.

The Goldfish

I have these tendencies with language inherited from my father, who uses this stuff as power in arguments; not in a nasty abusive way, but I tend to be right about stuff yet get muddled with words, so it evens things up if he can contradict me on these grounds. ;-)

I suppose I also do this when people are spouting bigotted arguments and using words which render their arguments nonsense. One example is racists going on about the interests of the "Indigenous Anglo-Saxon population of these islands" (to mean white Britons), whereas of course the Angles came from Jutland and the Saxons came from Saxony. But this kind pedantry proves a point, so I think that's okay.

I do think it is about power, however. To criticise in this way, to trip someone up where no harm could have come from leaving them alone, is to exert power. The power to wound, the power to feel superior and, if they're really good at it, the power to control other people. It's just bullying disguised as advice.

elizabeth

It is an interesting topic as I have many relations who have this addiction as well and to me the life changing is far more hurtful than the semantic changing - for when someone you love interrupts your saying you are going to have a coffee with "No, having coffee at this time of day isn't good for the digestion, I will make you a tea." The need for coffee is often replaced with the need for strangulation (or to denfenestrate someone).

Okay, it turns out that the whole nauseous and naseated is one of the "hot topics" in linquistics (the things I learn coming here!).
Usage Note: "Traditional critics have insisted that nauseous is properly used only to mean “causing nausea” and that it is incorrect to use it to mean “affected with nausea,” as in Roller coasters make me nauseous. In this example, nauseated is preferred by 72 percent of the Usage Panel. Curiously, though, 88 percent of the Panelists prefer using nauseating in the sentence The children looked a little green from too many candy apples and nauseating (not nauseous) rides. Since there is a lot of evidence to show that nauseous is widely used to mean “feeling sick,” it appears that people use nauseous mainly in the sense in which it is considered incorrect."

Personally, I use nauseous instead of nauseated because of the traditional suffix usage along with how that related to our present-past-future usage. So "Ous" is used to mean full of or characterized by - which, not knowing exactly when I will reach my zenith of nausea, I use 'nauseous' meaning that I am in a state of neasea which in flux and moving toward some horrid culmination. While the "ed" suffix indicates more of a past perfect rather than a present continious usage. Or in simple terms: "It do sound wrong to me!"

When I was young and arrogent and anal I used to be avoided at parties for refusing to accept common usage of language (and I mean up to the 14th century - so when people said, "How awful" my response was "I am glad you love it that much, I will make sure to get you two!"). But most of that is gone except I do wish people would realize what the word "mundane" used to mean but I keep that to myself. I most of the time I am simply left in lost causes, like when I tried to convince the British teen next to me on the plane that Canada was actually an independant nation and NOT on of the 50 states of the USA.

I hope you feel better soon and I hope you can accept my incorrect usage of words at times (and capitalization - I take a very 17th century view and capitalize anything which excites me). Have you renamed your bathroom the Vomitorium in order to bring a bit of Roman class to the sad times? (Sorry, it is my sense of humor, I know that the Romans had really, no class at all).

leslee

I think it's a habit of mind, in general, to notice what needs to be fixed. It's what's allowed human beings to survive. On the other hand, it's what's made some of us neurotic and others prone to spiral down into depression with their own self-recrimination. I think some people feel the need to direct it outwards either instead or as well. It runs through their minds habitually and they're not in the habit of editing first.

My mom was a habitual criticizer, and if you challenged her she'd tell you it was for your own good. Which, as you've pointed out, it isn't. I've gone in the opposite direction and have refrained on occasions where a discussion of, say, bad behavior was really warranted. But I so want to be let be to be myself that I habitually cut people slack. Except, I should say, that the critical voice does run around my head, especially when irritable. I get annoyed at the stupidest little things - my housemate being overly organized and is she freaking cleaning again??? But I'm very aware it's my own voice in my own head and nothing to do with anyone else. I've been more likely to direct the critical inner voice to myself, but I'm trying to learn to notice it and let it go. After all these years.

My 2 cents' worth.

(I didn't know nauseous wasn't acceptable either!)

Sara

Goodness, you are all so funny, smart, wise and compassionate. Thank you.

Krishanna, I am so glad you corrected me. In my head, I've been rhyming you with "banawna" this whole time. I will cease this behavior forthwith, even though I don't ultimately care whether people think I'm a dumbass (which I frequently am, or at least behave like). :)

Now before I go further, I feel it is important to point out that you seem far more laid back than I am, and I salute your Buddha nature with respect and admiration. However:

I am actually not laid back, and if anything I have written here seems like an effort to make myself look all mellow and carefree, people who know me in person are no doubt rolling their eyes and/or clutching their sides from laughing their asses off. I am loud, passionate, high-strung, and extremely detail-oriented, and I would in fact very much like to see far more people become themselves far more oriented toward the details that matter to me. I am not restful. I am not "cool" except in some not especially concrete ways. I am but two decades away from being that woman who smacks her cane against the floor and shrieks, "You kids keep it down in there!" to the downstairs neighbors. Really. It's going to happen. (And then it will happen again five minutes later, right before I call the town police. And then I will probably forget I called them and be perplexed when they show up.)

Just thought y'all should know.

Now that we have that cleared up...

Goldfish, you make an excellent point not just regarding power, but also in bringing up context. I think I feel powerless in medical situations, and an immediate need to assert dominance over medical professionals I encounter. I do view them as employees, consultants and technicians who work for me, and it is very necessary to me to establish this relationship with every single one of them at once. I hope that I have learned to be less of a bitch about it than I was when I corrected the "nauseous" user, not only because I prefer to be kind to people generally but also because snottiness isn't really all that effective at getting people to want to help you, but yeah, it seems clear now that that was about power.

Also, both you and Krishanna made me think about when being a verbal "dumbass" might or might not matter. I liked your example. I also think of our idiot president. If he were a good man and a good president, we would be laughing with him about his ineptitude with language. But because he is a crappy president who may also be an evil, selfish, uncompassionate fool, instead we sneer at his linguistic skills and point to them as further evidence of his general unfitness.

There are lots of people who have no language skills, not even the ability to remember how to say other people's names, or even what other people's names are, and are not dumbasses. There are lots of people who can use language to within an inch of its life and yet are dumbasses. I think it's really important to remember this and cut each other some slack whenever we can. But you're right, every time we correct each other on details we are not necessarily being petty or mindlessly power-tripping. Details do matter, often, especially when someone is trying to build an entire evil structure on the backs of some very wrong ones.

Elizabeth, thank you for the usage notes. And this is the other thing: I find that nine times out of ten (at least; this is not a scientifically derived estimate) people getting in a huff over usage are at least partly wrong. I also find, hubris being my muse, that almost any time I correct another person's usage, spelling, or whatnot, I make an error of my own while I am correcting. I also see other people doing this all the time. "I worte to him and told him he'd used thw ord 'nauseous' all wrong," for example. I even have a friend very much like the gingerly loved one described above who will send me misspelled questions of usage, spelling and grammar about errors she believes she has detected in the work of her coworkers. When I have asked her why, if she cares so much about this stuff, she can't even be bothered to capitalize properly in her e-mails to me, she has replied, "But" or rather "but that's just email! geez! i didnt think i had 2 be so careful w/u."

And yes, I did privately, so as not to unduly gross out my true love, think of the bathroom as the Vomitorium, but I also had my bucket with me everywhere I went. What would the Romans have called that, a Port-a-Vomit?

Leslee, thank you for your two cents' worth! And please note, as Elizabeth has pointed out, that I was probably at least arguably wrong about the whole nauseous/nauseated controversy. hahahahaha

And you're right, of course; we do need to "notice what needs to be fixed." And details like white spots on a mushroom cap vs. absence of white spots can be very, very important, the difference between food and poison, so worrying about details at all is absolutely a survival skill.

And yes, I wonder how many people who can't let a few specific things or every single little thing different from their expectations go are just as hard on themselves if not harder. I am pretty critical of myself, also. I just wish I could be clearer about which details matter while the impulse to react over them is fresh, before I've acted upon it.

TheAmpuT

yes, i do see the relationship in our posts!

Kay Olson

Not that I'm immune from the nitpicking myself. I can be quite good at it. But everyone's contributions here mostly just make me think about two things in my recent and current experience as a disabled person.

First, I spent about seven months after first getting trached and vented not being able to speak. Partly it was a recovery and learning process to speak around the trach, partly it was an energy thing (do I waste my breath struggling to speak or use that energy to hang out quietly in good company an extra hour or two. There were maybe two months in there where could have spoken all the time if I'd needed to for my needs to be met, but I was also adjusting to constant surveillance by assistants/home nurses, etc. and I found that being "incapable" of speaking provided me with a social out and some psychological space where I had no physical privacy.

Second, I manage, train and interact with seven different nurses, almost all of whom no little or nothing about vents, trachs, and suctioning when I first meet them. It's ludicrous because I know nothing myself two years ago and have absolutely no formal medical training (not even CPR classes, ever), but I train all these people. And I spend a good portion of every day giving orders: "I'm ready to go to the kitchen, now." "I need suction." "I have to use the toilet." "I'm freezing, can you find me a sweater?"

I wouldn't say these two facts about me have made me a nicer person. (In fact, the pressure of doing the latter every day often leaves me with much suppressed rage because, if the helper doesn't do things the way I would prefer them, which things matter enough to bitch about? Things like how I want them to comb my hair or how clean my eyeglasses are get shunted aside for doing more vital things like suctioning a bit better.)

Anyway, my point is I'm seriously burned out on the giving orders, nitpicking stuff. I'm burned out on the important stuff too. But most people likely are not burned out at all, and are also tired of life not being as they want it, big things and small.

Where I used to be obsessed with correct spelling and grammar, I find I no longer give a crap. Mostly that means I'm kinder to myself, not necessarily to others. In my case it's about prioritizing to not care. It's how I get what must to be talked about fixed. There's little time for the unimportant nitpick, which doesn't mean I don't do it or certainly think it.

I believe Goldfish is right about the power dynamic of it. But I wonder also how much is people's way of trying to connect, or fill time, or matter. I mean, if you're tired and it's been a long day and life sorta sucks and then you're in a social situation and just can't raise the smarts to hold a conversation, the nitpick stuff is right on the tip of the tongue, isn't it? It's what you can say when there's nothing else in your brain.

Sara

Kay, seriously, I am so glad you got your computer fixed. Thank you for sharing your perspective. Sorry I couldn't get my act together to say so sooner.

jeanne

Argh. Sara, yet again you have written the post that I had only thought about writing.

Because I have a friend who I, as you say, love gingerly, because she corrects me--and my dogs, and my children--constantly, and I can't stand it. I have to take a double dose of xanax when I am going to see her socially, on occasions that are supposed to be FUN.

But at the same time, I recognize myself as being just a few quirks away from being this woman--my sons might say I am already there.

The only bright side: I no longer ask my friends and family more than once. If they say no the first time, I let it go.

Jeanne

Lene

There's part of me that's convinced that if people would just do what I tell them, the world would be a better place. I work really, really hard not to spend my days informing the multitudes where they go wrong and how to fix it. And when I have trouble keeping my mouth shut, I read one of the Amelia Peabody mysteries (by Elizabeth Peters) and live vicariously through this supremely bossy (in a charming way) woman.

p.s. although when someone pronounces it 'nucular', all bets are off.

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