Ah, Humanity

September 12, 2011

Casualties and Fortunes of Language

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I love the library.  Librarians are right up there with pharmacists as people who are completely on my side.  They are my advocates against censorship and insurance companies, respectively.  So I don’t want to turn around and censor librarians but I have to wonder what exactly they are thinking with some peculiar signs I have seen in two of the branches I habitually haunt.  In one women’s room there is a sign that says,

“Please use paper towels appropriately.”

I looked at it for a long time, wondering what had happened in here that would result in this sign.  Had someone tried to paper the walls with them?  Or jimmy open the dispenser?  The most likely misdemeanor is putting paper towels in the toilet.  But if so, why didn’t the sign just say, “No paper towels in the toilet.”

“The people who are using paper towels inappropriately probably don’t read signs like the one you have up in the women’s room,” I mentioned –as a good citizen–to a librarian.  She looked up from her sleuth.  It took a while for her eyes to focus.

“Good point,” she noted.

I haven’t exercised my good citizenship in regards to another sign currently up in another branch library:

“Strollers block our entrance. Thank you.”

Does this mean they are inviting strollers to block the entrance?  Because that is certainly what’s implied.

Aren’t I annoying?  Most English majors of a certain age are annoying if not cranky.

Schoolchildren are experts at knowing exactly what they mean and saying it anyway.  I had a piano student from St Alphonse’s school come in one day singing a Christmas carol whose chorus went “Noel, Noel, sing in exultation!” But he sang the words the St Al’s kids were inserting:  “Noah, Noah died of constipation!”  Then he did an imitation of a nun frothing at the mouth.

Schoolchildren are also good at saying what they aren’t sure they mean, but they can be forgiven because they are earnestly struggling with why anything means anything.  Most of the rest of us are too tired.  One of those humorous Internet forwards that make the rounds of everyone’s e-mails contained answers children had made on Bible tests.  My favorites were:

*Solomon, one of David’s sons, had 300 wives and 700 porcupines.

*Throughout history the Jews had trouble with unsympathetic Genitals.

*Christians have only one spouse.  This is called Monotony.

My friend, Terry, who is the most diplomatic person I know, sent me an email of the Bible test answers.  I saw her at an OK Chorale rehearsal later that evening.  Walking over to where she was sitting with the altos, I marshaled my thoughts in order to make a funny comment.

But what came out was, “Hey Terry, how are your genitals?”

Four alto heads snapped up.

“Oh my god, I’m sorry!  That’s not what I meant to say!”  I quickly explained about the email.

Terry just laughed, “What are friends for if one can’t inquire after their genitals once in a while?”

Context is what makes language a casualty or a fortune.  Here’s the funniest exchange I’ve heard in a long time, compliments of Jim, husband of Debi, aka Putzer, the attorney. (http://www.elenalouiserichmond.com/2011/02/away-with-discrepancies/)

Jim was in his front yard doing manly stuff like pruning when a car pulled up in front of the house and the driver rolled down her window.

“How much do you charge for yard work?” she called out.

“Well, the lady at this house lets me sleep with her,” Jim said.

The driver gunned her motor and was gone.

There’s been an on-going Facebook progress report on Jim’s construction of a cradle for his soon to be born grandchild.  It occurred to me that it is taking a long time.  I was trying to formulate something funny to say –on Facebook, mind you–about the lady of the house letting him sleep with her, but I remembered my faux-pas with the genitals comment in time to stop myself.

But I will say this because I want to end this blog: what are paper towels for if one can’t stuff them down the toilet once in a while?  And if your marriage gets monotonous, you might consider a three-way with a porcupine.




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