by Cathy Allie
Back in the day (as my daughter likes to call any time past Tuesday) at the end of CBS’s 60 Minutes, commentator Andy Rooney used to take a few minutes and grouse about whatever had him sideways at the time.
A classic Rooney was, "I don't know anything offhand that mystifies Americans more than the cotton they put in pill bottles. Why do they do it? Are you supposed to put the cotton back in once you've taken a pill out?" That rant still ranks as one of my all-time favorites.
Another time he called modern street art work in Washington, D.C. ugly and invasive, saying “It makes about as much sense as the politicians there.” I suppose I think this one still applies.
He picked on speech, pop culture, habits, pretty much everything and everybody except nuns. I used to watch him and think to myself what a crabby old man he was. But as I’ve aged and the world around me swirls, I find myself on occasion in an Andy Rooney state of mind.
First, I hate the way people use their turn signal when they’re driving. According to the way I learned to drive, the signal is an indication that awaits an invitation.
I flip on my signal to indicate I want to come over, and then I sort of wait for the invite, either by speeding up a little to merge in front of someone, or backing off the gas to allow me to fold in behind.
But literally every. single. day. on my I-70 commute, a driver flips on the signal and in one half milli-second enters my lane. Numerous times I have had to slam on my brakes, swerve or begin praying, as I move to avoid the rampant signaler.
The ripple effect with the driver behind me is usually less than pleasant. I am just trying to avoid a wreck, I say, sometimes out loud, creating the illusion that I am talking to myself and am verifiably crazy.
Notice how I said wreck? This is another of my latest pet peeves. I listen to the traffic reporters each morning before my commute, and each day I hear them talk about all the crashes. But what I really think they mean is wrecks. Here is the dichotomy—two vehicles crash into each other and create a wreck.
When they say, “We have lots of crashes on the roads today,” they sound like 7 year-olds describing their Hot Wheels car play.
“See, Mom? I’m gonna’ crash all these cars into this truck,” little Paul screams. Pick the more grown up verb and call them wrecks.
Maybe those folks that wrecked were on the way to the airport where TSA will screen their bags right in front of the waiting room window, so all the world gets a glimpse of their Chewbacca boxers or rumpled slip. Andy would really hate that!
I am guessing he also would not like to share seats with a fellow passenger who believes BOTH arm rests are hers. On my last flight, I had folks on both sides who each claimed both arm rests, leaving me to tuck my arms deep into my sides like an Irish dancer. I was so stiff by the time we landed, I believe I had contracted arthritis on the flight.
In fact, many of my Rooney’isms have to do with personal space and people crossing boundaries. Don’t touch the items I have just put on the conveyor belt at the store, examining them like museum artifacts. They are mine. Get your own.
And while I am at it, don’t stand so close to me in line. No one is joining us in the 3 inches you have left for wiggle room, to cut in front of you in line. I should not be able to feel your warm breath on my neck.
As a former English and journalism teacher, I am a little bit pre-disposed to be irritated with others’ grammar. Truly, when we meet for coffee, I am not silently judging you, but let me cover a few that are high on my list of Andy Rooney-like complaints.
The first is irregardless vs. regardless. There was so much debate over whether irregardless was actually a word, that lexicographers around the world had to go to great lengths to explain it, then they made it an official dictionary entry just to share the explanation, which tells why it is not really a word.
Turns out it is sort of a cross-pollination of two words, irrespective and regardless. It is just basically an emphatic use of regardless, and I am happy to say that even as I type this, my grammar autocorrection system wants it to say regardless instead.
A second big time peeve of mine is the misuse of the phrase, “I couldn’t care less,” which should be used to mean that it is low priority, not bothering me, just a nothing.
But people routinely say, “I could care less,” which literally interpreted means they actually do care, the opposite of what they are saying.
If I am with my husband when I hear this, he will reach out and grab my hand and try to start conversation on another topic so that I won’t ask for the person’s list of things about which they could care less.
Just this week, I heard it in passing. I was waiting to get a hair trim and to get my eyebrows touched up, because unlike Andy Rooney, I am concerned about the crazy toupee looking things above my eyes.
“I just told my daughter I could care less about what she thinks about her curfew,” another customer said. So what ranks lower? Her fast-driving friends? Her dirty hair? Pierced tongue? I nearly bit through mine.
I am also pretty adamant about first-come, first served, which has a d at the end, as well. Billboards, television commercials, print ads all leave off that precious d. So by saying first-come, first-serve, the speaker indicates that those who arrive first will be the ones who serve everyone else, probably not the idiom’s intent.
Before this column goes completely grammar guru, let me just remind gentle readers that we just thaw meat, and not unthaw it; a mute point could never be made aloud because mute means silent, while a moot point is debatable or doubtful; and a strong coffee drink is espresso, pronounced with an "s" in the first syllable, and expresso is not a word, unless it joined its brother irregardless in the latest Webster release.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.