Speech impediments

When my wife Sandy died almost four years ago, I received numerous emails and letters of condolence from friends. Others, who were not as close, tended to use a particular phrase when they saw me. “Sorry for your loss,” they would say, without the slightest flicker of emotion. Initially, the words were consoling, but after a while I gritted my teeth every time I heard what came to sound like nothing more than an empty banality.

Members of the armed forces in the U.S., and increasingly in Canada, must feel the same short shrift after they’ve been told, for the umpteenth time, “Thanks for your service.” Such platitudes may be well meant but they come to mean nothing. 

So, too, with other automaton comments such as “Have nice day,” which has been inflicted upon us since at least the early 1980s, and sounds thinner and thinner with every passing year. Or how about when you thank a cashier for taking your money and she says, “No problem.” No problem? What ever happened to “You’re welcome?” The Italians have it right with the multipurpose prego that can mean anything from “At your service” to “Here’s you order” or “You’re welcome.”

Neil Postman famously worried that society was going to amuse itself to death. My concern is that on the way to that dire end, our communications have become little more than a bunch of bromides. Recently, as I sat on a park bench eating my packed lunch, a man about my age walked by. He looked at me, pointed a finger in my direction, and declared, “You’ve got it made!” Now, there’s a greeting.



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