language lament

Those people on the other end of the phone, when you call a business to try and resolve some highly irritating problem, are themselves infinitely irritating.
The scripts they have to follow make my head spin.
It’s hard enough, as we all know, to negotiate the wild and wacky journey of actually getting through to the correct person with the capacity to do something useful.
But then there is the actual dialogue:

Me: I purchased an item that was damaged.
Them: Yes, Ma’am. I understand, Ma’am, that you have purchased an item that was damaged, Ma’am. I will be happy, Ma’am, to assist you in resolving that problem.
Me: OK – but please stop calling me Ma’am.
Them: I need to call you something, Ma’am.
Me: Actually, since it’s only you and me talking right now, I can safely assume that when you speak, you are speaking to me – No need for a title.
Them: I understand, Ma’am.

And then – this is my favorite part:

Them: What is your name?
Me: Judy Freed
Them: Perfect. And what state are you calling from?
Me: Pennsylvania.
Them: Perfect.

What, exactly, does this mean?
Is my name the very sound of perfection itself? Perhaps my location is the perfect location for a person to be if they want a damaged item replaced.
Or is this some kind of knowledge test on which I am getting a perfect score because I know my name and address?
Or maybe the fact that I am comprehending and answering the questions at all is a notably perfect interaction between questioner and responder.

My linguistic distress is not limited to chats with customer service reps. I get confused easily in daily life among humans.
Consider all of the “How ya doing”’s, and the “What’s up”’s that aren’t really asking a question – I don’t know how to respond. I am coming to understand that I am not supposed to actually describe how I’ve been or what’s been up in my life. It feels weird to ignore a question and offer a greeting in response, but I have been forcing myself to reply with a simple “hello”. (Perhaps today I’ll try expanding this practice. When someone says “How’s your family?”, I’ll simply answer “Good afternoon”.)

Or consider the frequent insertion of phrases such as “You know what I’m saying?”. If you haven’t finished saying whatever it is that you were trying to say before you interrupted yourself to ask if I knew what you were saying, I might actually know what it is you were saying. But unfortunately, I don’t yet know until you finish saying it. If you would simply say it, there would be no need to ask if I know what you are saying because you would have said it and therefore I would know what you said.

My family has a pattern of saying a word or phrase repeatedly, for a few months at a time, and then switching to a new word or phrase. Recently, my sister has been saying “also” in every other sentence. It mystifies me to hear her work the word into sentences where it really has no legitimate reason to be: “Good night. I’ll talk to you tomorrow also”. And my Dad has been saying “as such” at the end of almost every sentence: “Your mother didn’t make it to the bathroom in time today. As such.” And my Mom, Dad, and sister all say “That’s all” several times a minute: “I’m waiting for the doctor to call me back. That’s all. It’s been a long day. That’s all. I’m going to get myself some good herring. That’s all.”

Perhaps I’m just sensitive to language, as I’m sensitive to so many external cues.
All those pesky little words that seem to derail my brain could be another opportunity to step back and perceive from a larger perspective.
Perhaps If I soften, pause, and tune in to the overall meaning in the message being spoken, I can truly understand and respond appropriately.
Perhaps I can derive satisfaction from my own use of words, and delight in my own access to language and expression, letting go of the need to make others conform to my personal sensibilities.
Perhaps I can even find delight in the infinitely idiosyncratic ways in which we all express ourselves.
Still, I find myself longing for the moment when I will be offered a simple and satisfying solution to some damaged item, to which I will say “Thank you, Ma’am. Perfect.”

3 thoughts on “language lament”

  1. Spoken words have a language (?) of their own, much of which has become devoid of any real meaning. What was once a matchless form of communication is now a series of syllables designed to appease, feign interest in or otherwise endorse the presence of another. So, when you are told on the phone that “Your call is important to us…..” realize that you are being consigned to some subtropical savanna to twist in the wind with the rest of the short grasses. After endless loops of a listless melody performed by a one-fingered guitarist, you’ll eventually connect with a human and, by the grace of all that is good, understand at least three words in every rapidly-paced sentence.

    Back to etching mastodons and elands on cave walls.

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