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Nov 17 2009

Oh, Poor Stanley Fish!

Oh, pity petty Stanley Fish
Who isn’t treated as he’d wish;
Who wants the world to go his way
Complaining at each brief delay.

If retail workers choose to take
Their legally required break
And Stanley has to wait a bit
Professor Fish will throw a snit.

The poor, poor, privileged Stanley Fish
Starts steaming like a chafing dish
When operators are too bold
And ask to put the man on hold.

And Stanley Fish will take offense
(In fact, or maybe in pretense)
At error screens and menu trees
And other helpful things as these.

It must be nice to live a life
So calm, so cool, so free of strife;
Annoyances are viewed as crimes
And worth a column in The Times.

In his column in Monday’s New York Times, Stanley Fish complains:

There is a class of utterances that, when encountered, produces irritation, distress and, in some cases, the desire to kill. You hear or read one of these and your heart sinks. Everyone will have his or her (non)favorites. Mine is a three-word announcement on the TV screen, “To Be Continued,” which says, “I know that you have become invested in this story and are eager to find out how it ends, but you’re going to have to wait for a few days or a week or a month or forever.” In the great order of things, it is only a minor inconvenience, but it is experienced as a deprivation; you were banking on something and now it has been taken away.

Stanley has a rough life. I can’t think of the last time “To Be Continued” gave me the desire to kill.

He goes on to list other horrible crimes against humanity, like cashiers taking breaks, operators asking if they can put you on hold, and the horrible and insulting “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.” Yeah, that last one is right up there with roadside bombs and amoebic dysentery, innit? I note also, with amusement, that Fish takes computer messages as being designed to tell him, personally, that he is an idiot, when in fact he is clearly more important than the people who are trying to do their jobs while dealing with a caller or customer whose idea of an appropriate response to “to be continued” is homicidal rage.

So there it is : a list of phrases that make you wince and say (if only to yourself), “Oh, no!”, because they derail expectation or because they offer condescension and prevarication in equal measure or because they accuse you of failures and weaknesses often before you’ve even had a chance to do anything.

I’m sure the list could be longer, and I invite you to add to it.

I did add to it. As of this writing, my comment is “awaiting moderation”, despite roughly one hundred later comments all being posted without incident. My comment (submitted at 8:05):

“Let us pray”.

The next few minutes will rarely be devoted to speaking to god, but rather to chastising those gathered in hearing range, whether they wish to hear or not. All well and good; those people are there to hear, whereas god is busy helping a football team win or something. Still, if you are going to speak to the people, then admit you are speaking to the people, and don’t pretend to be praying. Better yet, use the time in productive activity.

And of course, the similarly useless

“Join me in a moment of silence”

In which a group of people gathered together, who could be using this time productively, intentionally choose to waste it, but to make themselves feel better about having done so.

Comments are now closed, after 424 people complained about trivia similar to Fish’s selfish items, and one person writes “How albout (sic) all the religious ones? Have a blessed day. It is God’s will. He won’t give youmore (sic) than you can handle Blah, de blah, de blah.”

I suppose my comment won’t be approved, because it was not trivial enough. It’s ok for Stanley to insult the service industry, but to suggest that prayer is an organized waste of time? Not in Stanley’s world.

1 comment

  1. 1
    Blake Stacey

    The airing of peeves and petty grievances seems to tap into a deep well of the human psyche. Just look at any comment thread in which people are invited to argue about English grammar. Do they show interest in the history of their language, or care to know where the rules imposed by schoolteachers actually come from? No, not likely. Instead, it's really, really important that we know those damn Kids These Days are splitting their infinitives, dangling prepositions at the ends of sentences and discarding the Oxford comma. Because you know who else didn't care about proper grammar? Adolf Hitler, that's who!

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