Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lazy Language?

A Word About Our Language
My books and paintings...that’s what this blog was created for. Books are a way we use language. Today I’d like to take a little time to write about our language, more specifically spoken language, not written language...and English.

Language changes all the time. It evolves just like we do. The rapid pace of our lives has had an effect, I believe. Some of these changes have resulted in the use of lazy, ambiguous, even rude (whether intended or not) language. I have two examples today.

Are you all set?
Here’s a pretty common restaurant scene. You’re sitting across the table from someone, engaged in conversation, sometime during the meal. The waitress/waiter stops by and asks, “Are you all set?” For the life of me, I have no idea what she just asked. Is she asking...

“Are you finished?”
“Do you want your check?”
“Do you need anything or anything else or anything more?”
“Is the meal OK?”
“May I clear the dishes?”

Which is it? Am I the only one who thinks this is a lazy, ambiguous use of our language? Here’s another example.

You’ve just gassed up at the pump, walk into the convenience store/gas station, grab a snack from the little store they have, and line up behind a couple other customers, waiting to pay. Finally, it’s your turn. The clerk asks, “Are you all set?”

What the hell does that mean? Does it look like I’m all set? All set for what? All set meaning I don’t need any help? Or all set meaning I look like I need help?

Hey buddy, I’m holding a couple candy bars. I’ve just pumped $40 of gas from your pumps outside. I have a couple twenty dollar bills in one hand and two candy bars in the other. I’m all set to pay, but I’m not all set because I haven’t paid. So, am I all set? I don’t really know.

From what I’ve read, ‘all set’ may be an idiom which is used mostly in the northeast and eastern U.S. I do know I hear it all the time. I feel it’s lazy language, ambiguous at best. Say what you mean. How about ‘May I help you?’ or something similar?

Next Topic - ‘No Problem’

Let’s use the same restaurant scene as above, although it could apply to just about any retail scenario. Your meal is being served, but you notice that one of the silverware sets is missing. You ask your waitress for another set. You thank her when she brings it. “Sure,” she says, “No problem.”

What? No problem? Someone says it’s no problem for her/he to be doing his/her job? It implies it might have been an inconvenience for them, but we should be so thankful it wasn’t a problem for them. If it were a problem, they wouldn’t have done it?

Wouldn't it be better to say, “It’s a pleasure to serve you” or “You’re welcome” or something similar?


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