I have been out of touch with my friend Lalit for over 20 years now, but I recall the story he loved to tell about coming to America from his native country, India, and sampling our American culture and cuisine by visiting what is and was, perhaps, our best known fast-food franchise…
With his sense of humor on full display, Lalit tells of ordering (in his thick, first-time-out-of-India accent), a “Ahm-ber-jer”. The young woman behind the counter looks a bit befuddled and then replies, “I’m sorry, we don’t have that here.” Lalit says, (in his type-A extrovert voice), “What do you mean? The sign outside says you have served billions and billions!”
“Ah,” says the young woman, “we pronounce that “hamburger” here in America.”
“Oh, forgive me,” says Lalit, “I am a ‘strang-grrr’ here.”
Grammar in today’s world
Recently, I was reminded of Lalit’s humorous story when I drove through the to-go lane of this very same franchise. Since I had sworn off all foods passed through the window of my automobile as a 2020 New Year’s resolution and have been fairly faithful to said “resolution,” I was not up on the COVID-induced menu changes at this golden-arched shrine. That being said, I ordered as normal:
“I’d like a bagel with cream cheese, please.”
“We don’t have no bagels,” came the reply.
I went with a Diet Coke instead. The grammar, however, literally made my head explode. (Have you noticed how often people use the word ‘literally’ when the context is clearly figurative? That too makes my head (not) explode). I think my elementary school covered double-negatives in fifth or sixth grade—probably both considering my rural upbringing and the surrounding Southern dialect. Clearly, however, it remains an uphill battle.
Now I shan’t distress, but Lalit and I do agree that language matters. It’s easy to pick on the public-school system and wonder if our schools have stopped teaching grammar. But I don’t think this is the case. Rather, I think (unsubstantiated opining here) that our lack of proper grammar may come from a simple combination of laziness and cultural digression. And truthfully, I believe that there are additional reasons for said grammar issues, but my editorial staff probably won’t let me be that forthcoming. But I digress, let’s pause for a moment to express our gratitude towards those who protect us from ourselves…
I have told you before that I correct my grown children’s grammar when I hear an error; this does not make them despise me as much as you might guess, but it does send them on a rigorous safari to find their old dad in error. That brings immeasurable delight to the offspring, as it should.
I also correct my wife from time-to-time. This is not well received and may result in my sudden disappearance under mysterious circumstances at some point in the future. I guess I need a 24/7 real-time editorial staff…yet another reason I stay off social media.
Verb conjugation and pronouns are another hot-button for me: “We seen them people out together.”
It’s our mother tongue, and is this the best we can do?
Take heed in your words
The things I hear on a daily basis drive me out of my mind, which isn’t necessarily a long trip I will concede. However, it is not just grammar; hyperbole represented as fact is another hot button, which can get us into trouble in the financial world. Here are some statements I hear from financial pundits that raise my hackles:
- “Today’s market crash…” — I heard that after a one-day 3% drop in the market.
- “It’s never been this bad before.” — This one came from a friend that had apparently never heard of the Great Depression, the Spanish Flu, or World Wars I & II.
- “At this rate, we are soon going to have nothing left.” — A client made this protest in the very difficult market of 2008-2009. Yes, it was a hard time, but did we ever really believe that all American businesses were headed for bankruptcy? I guess some did believe that, even though American markets did recover in about two to three years from the beginning of the downturn.
- “I’ll be fine if my Financial Advisor keeps getting me my 20% return going forward.”— This is another favorite I heard from a colleague in the engineering world some years ago. I tried to point out that it was (and is) best to not base one’s income on an investment return that has never been sustainable over time in the history of capitalism. He argued with me and I let it go. I hope he’s still not working today out of necessity at the age of 80+.
We may not realize it in the moment, but the way that we speak affects us in both positive and negative ways. In other words (pun intended), our language matters, so we should take care of how we use our words and what we say.
I think my New Year’s resolution this November will be that when I hear drivel and dreck about investing, I will gently remind the purveyors of either panic or greed that language matters. Dumb statements are still dumb no matter how much emphasis is placed upon them. I won’t be holding my breath for a “happily ever after” chat though…
Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.