Friday, May 19, 2017

Seven Stupid Reasons to Lose Your Mind

Let me begin with a disclaimer: This list doesn’t go into political or religious issues. If it did, the list could go on indefinitely, and its delicate balance between funniness and offensiveness would probably tip in the wrong direction.

Also, I could have added an eighth item to the list, but I’ve already done the Oxford comma, so let’s consider that subject closed. So, without any further throat-clearing...

7. When someone puts a double-space after a period. I don’t do it, and I don’t allow it to stand when another writer does it and I’m editing their work for the newspaper. But I’ve seen some columns on the internet about this, columns that go way over-the-top in condemning the practice of typing a double space after every period, which many people remember being told to do when they were learning to type.

OK, so those double spaces are unnecessary, wasteful, and, when you’re typesetting a publication, downright disruptive. But here’s the deal. In a matter of seconds, with fewer than 10 keystrokes, you can run a global find-and-replace routine on your document that changes all double-spaces to single-spaces.

You may even be able to create an automation (depending on your software and your programming savvy) that does this at the pressing of shortcut key.

You might also be able to program an autotext subroutine that does this replacement while you type, requiring no keyboard shortcuts at all.

When the problem is that easy to solve, it is totally not worth losing your cool.

6. When someone says “can” instead of “may.” Some people find this grammatical slip especially irksome when they hear it committed by someone who should know better. Instead of overlooking the so-small-it’s-almost-invisible usage mistake, they reply to casual (and sometimes rather serious) inquiries with snarky comebacks like, “I don’t know. Can you go to the bathroom?”

After it’s said and done, they haven’t taught the other person a valuable lesson, other than “Try harder next time not to let them see you call them an asshole with your eyes.”

You see, the distinction between “can” and “may” seems to be vanishing in casual American speech. Using “may” when most people would instinctively say “can” has practically become a social-class shibboleth.

So, when someone gives enough thought to the may/can distinction to be conspicuously precise in their usage, Joe Average begins to suspect they are either an uppity snob or a pedantic bore. And if they correct him, he knows they’re the latter.

Another thing to understand about the American mindset is that people don’t like it when someone seems to look down on them or think himself superior to them. All it takes to move from a warm embrace to a cold shoulder is to act like, in your mind, you don’t belong or fit in.

My advice would be to let it go when you hear someone use “can” instead of “may,” and try not to let the thought “What an ignorant yokel” show in your eyes. You might fool them into thinking you’re all right.

5. When someone says “I could care less.” This old chestnut has been roasted on many a tweeter’s or Facebooker’s news feed, in a thousand variations on “Top 10 Grammatical Errors Everyone Needs to Stop Making Yesterday, or Die Screaming!”

What’s particularly lame about this one is that it isn’t even grammatically incorrect.

I mean, the subject agrees with the verb; it has all the parts of speech necessary to make a complete sentence; it’s spelled and punctuated correctly. So why is this wrong?

It’s “wrong,” apparently, because the person objecting to it doesn’t understand why the sentence “I could care less” makes perfect sense, as it stands.

Believe me, and I speak from experience, you can point out to them that redacting this idiomatic expression to read “I couldn’t care less” is a classic example of over-correction, and all you will achieve is to bring down on yourself a column of Internet vitriol that, if matched in physical reality, would melt the flesh off your bones.

I submit that people who are offended by the imprecision of the statement “I could care less” are afflicted by a grammatical form of OCD. Either that, or they just have a blind spot to the clear meaning of a saying that has been in use for generations.

The crowning irony is that the “corrected” version, “I couldn’t care less,” actually doesn’t hold up under cross-examination. What, really? You couldn’t care less? So, it isn’t at all possible that a subject could exist about which you care less than the given one? How about that!

“I could care less,” on the other hand, actually can be understood in at least a couple ways.

For one: Have you ever heard of straight-up sarcasm? Similar remarks include, “Big deal!” and “Wow,” and “Isn’t that special?” and “Thanks for sharing,” and “Like I give a rat’s ass.”

For another, there’s the related technique of murder by understatement, in which a outwardly positive remark is so insultingly bland, it isn’t necessary to say the intended put-down aloud. For example: “That’s a unique point of view” (but don’t expect me to take it seriously), and “I’ll give that all the consideration it deserves” (which isn’t much).

In the same vein, I like to think of “I could care less” as being followed by an unspoken clause like, “but that would take more effort than it’s worth,” or “but that might be dangerous.”

On a literal level, however, you have to hand it to whatever it is you don’t care about: you could care less, hypothetically speaking, even if at the moment you can’t think of anything that you would care less about.

4. Pineapple on pizza. Gordon Ramsay, the chef with the filthiest mouth on cable TV, and the president of Iceland are dead set against it; but I could care less, and the sentiment seems to be widespread.

As long as enough people like the ham-and-pineapple, or Canadian-bacon-and-pineapple, combination of pizza toppings, it’s going to be worth pizza restaurants’ while to violate these elitist jerks’ canons of good taste.

It is apparent from the internet backlash that a siginficant slice of the population pie likes theirs with pineapple on it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that combo; at times, I rather crave it.

I think I first encountered something like it in Germany, in the form of a tomato, pineapple, cheese, and ham sandwich served on an English muffin, which my hosts called a Hawaiian-style something or other. It seemed like a great idea, and the crowd who seems to agree should be allowed to hold this opinion in peace. The world is big enough for that, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be sad if someone actually could (like the Icelandic president joked about doing) lay down a law against even a trivial, grammatically dubious belief like “pineapple goes good on pizza”? What kind of world are we building for the next generation if we’re willing to pick public fights over ludicrously subjective opinions such as “Pineapple pizza is wrong?”

Anchovies, however, are another story. It’s not so much that I hate anchovies; I really don’t. I just know, from experience, that whatever else you put on a pizza, if it has anchovies on it, it’s an anchovy pizza, period.

People should have the right to order an anchovy pizza, but they shouldn’t expect anybody who wants a pepperoni pizza (for exmaple) to compromise with them by sharing an anchovy-and-pepperoni pizza, because there’s no such thing. There may be a measurable quantity of pepperoni on the pie, but the only thing these two guys will taste in each bite is anchovy, to an overpowering degree.

Anchovy a-fish-ionados (heh) should take a cue from some people I know who can’t or won’t eat cheese in any form; rather than trying to get others to split a cheeseless pizza with them, they just order a separate pizza with no cheese. A separate anchovy pizza may be worth the expense, even if it does make the whole room stink. But I digress.

3. Ketchup on a hot dog. I’ve actually allowed myself to be drawn into an argument about this in a Facebook comment thread. It’s not that I’m against people being allowed to disagree about this. I am just basically, instinctively honked off by the intolerance of the largely Chicago-centric culture of saying, “If you put ketchup on hot dogs, you’re wrong,” or “This hot dog stand reserves the right to refuse service to anyone who asks for ketchup,” etc.

I don’t personally consider ketchup to be an essential hot dog condiment, but I do find it complements certain other combinations of hot dog toppings.

Also, just as an added dig, I think the “Chicago dog” is stupid. If a wedge of pickle bigger than the sausage link is essential for its appreciation, you might want to look at improving the taste of your sausage.

Me, I’m a Sonic “New York dog” man: sauerkraut, brown mustard, and grilled onions all the way, baby! But I do wish the clerks at Sonic would act a little more like they believe in their product. The last two times I’ve ordered this, the cashier has asked me two different ways (each time!) whether I understood I was getting a hot dog with sauerkraut, brown mustard, and caramelized onions on it. Are you sure you want all that, mister? Yes, yes, that’s why I’m ordering it!

2. Whether the end of the toilet paper (or paper towel) goes under or over the roll. Come on, folks. Why are you still bitching at your loved ones about this? The roller works either way. If you’re so concerned about it, try to make sure you’re always the one who puts the new roll of paper on the rack.

For the sake of world peace, learn to co-exist about something as stupid and trivial as whether the end hangs down toward you or away from you. Or let the rule be like the one that has solved many a debate over which radio station to tune in while riding together in a car: let the driver choose. This doesn’t necessarily pre-suppose that the vehicle’s occupants take turns driving. Maybe it’s an incentive to not always be a passenger in somebody else’s car, and to get your own before your regular driver’s taste in music drives you nuts.

1. Related to that: Whether the toilet seat stays up or down. Again, why the backbiting and recrimination about this? If she falls into the bowl because she didn’t look to see which way the seat was angled, she could take some responsibility for looking before she, um, leaps. If he whizzes all over the seat because his aim is only precise to an opening the size of the bowl with the seat flipped up, he could take some responsibility for wiping the seat off with TP before he washes his hands. (And let’s be honest, he probably needs to wipe the rim after going with the seat up, anyway).

As for me, I think the simplest solution to this dilemma is to keep the lid closed on the toilet when not in use. But I speak as a pet owner who has, more than once, had to fish a kitten out of the (ugh) drink. Dog owners might have their own icky reasons for deliberately leaving the lid up, so Fido can always find a fresh(?) supply of drinking water. But apart from that and worrying about sewer rats crawling out into your home (a phobia my late, beloved grandmother had, after feeling whiskers tickling her keister one time during a visit to the basement john), there’s no reason everybody shouldn’t be able to leave the seat up or down, for the next potty-goer to adjust to his or her own requirements.

Again, co-exist, people. Save your intolerant tirades for things that really matter, such as whether to drive 15 mph below the speed limit or 15 mph above it.

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