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(BEN CLARKSON FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(BEN CLARKSON FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Grab my awesome parameters: Perfect! Add to ...

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

‘Could I just grab your membership card?” the sales clerk asked. “No,” I thought, “but you could have it or you could take it.”

She works at a well-known big-box store, the one that in my home town thanks you for your “collaboration” when you return your shopping cart to the corral.

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I am not sure why I was taken aback by her asking to “grab” my card. I hear that word almost every time I shop. Clerks offer to grab a different size or colour, servers in restaurants grab the menu or another coffee for me.

Maybe I had a mental image of her suddenly and rudely seizing or snatching the card. She didn’t. She just took it, and after I’d paid I went on my way. I returned the cart, but did not recall working together with anyone to plan that undertaking. Everything was perfect.

Whenever I tap or swipe my credit card at the grocery store, it is somehow “perfect.” Almost every time I answer a simple question, the response is “perfect.” The other day I was giving information over the phone to my cable and telephone provider. “Your date of birth? … Perfect. Your address? … Perfect. Your e-mail address? … Perfect.”

When she asked again for my date of birth I could not resist reminding her that I had already given it to her, and that she’d thought it was perfect (It isn’t. Just the other day, of the six obituaries in our local newspaper five of the deceased people had dates of birth more recent than mine.)

She probably told a co-worker that she had just finished with today’s crabbiest client, as I wasn’t using the “filters” that my daughter keeps reminding me about. I guess that is the new way of saying “think before you speak.” It is probably awesome when you remember to do that.

Last week I was looking at recipes online and found an Awesome Slow-cooker Pot Roast. It had to be good! My Webster’s dictionary defines “awesome” as “inspiring awe” and “awe” as “a feeling of deep wonder and respect for overpowering grandeur.”

Thinking that this dictionary must be out of date, I consulted my Webster’s New World Dictionary of American Language only to read “a mixed feeling of reverence, fear and wonder caused by something majestic, sublime, sacred, etc.”

I wonder what adjective the submitter of the pot-roast recipe (and those people who have eaten awesome bacon cheeseburgers, witnessed awesome hockey goals, purchased items at an awesome sale) would use if she or he saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, or walked into Saint Peter’s Basilica or came upon the Blessed Virgin Mary in a field near San Sebastian, Spain. Maybe “awesomest.”

Until recently, an icon was a picture or other representation of Jesus, Mary or a saint. It was rarely used. Now every singer, movie actor and sports figure is an icon – though most are not even close to nomination for sainthood. “Iconic” Justin Bieber is a case in point. Newscasters and interviewers love that word. I cannot even remember what adjective they used before: Great? Important? Well-known?

Language evolves, especially the English language. We do not have an organization like the French Academy, which according to Wikipedia “scours the land for invasive words from other languages” and tries, somewhat ineffectively, to curb their usage.

Chaucer and Shakespeare would surely be astonished, even horrified, if they attempted to read the best literature of today. We must accept and even embrace this process – and I do, or I grudgingly try to. But does it hurt to poke a little fun at it along the way?

I was recently astounded when asked for my “parameters.” I had taken something into a shop to be repaired. That sent me back to my New World dictionary, where I learned that a parameter is: “1. a quantity or constant whose value varies with the circumstances of its application; 2. any constant, with variable values used as a referent for determining other values.”

As it turned out, the man was asking for my address. Well now, let’s see. My address has been constant for 35 years, but its value does vary: It goes up each year on my Real Property Assessment and Tax Notice, but has gone down in the current real-estate market. The gentleman I surreptitiously laughed at may have been a lexical semanticist at heart.

When I told my daughter about the incident, she recalled how she had recently been asked for her “co-ordinates.” That also meant address. Well, I am ready for that one: Longitude 64.775, Latitude 46.094.

Sandra Gould lives in Riverview, N.B.

 

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