Petty Annoyances
Walter E. Williams, September 23, 1997

People think runaway government is the only thing that bothers me, but there're some minor nuisances that bother me as well. Chief among them are people's seeming inability to differentiate between the number zero and the letter "o" in conversation - even telephone operators. An information operator might say, Dial 31o-3o55. I'd ask, "If I follow your instructions, entering the letter "o" instead of the number zero, will I reach my party?" They always say no. Then I ask them, "Why do you say dial "o" when you should say zero?" Our chit-chat usually degrades after that. I'm guessing the confusion is because both "o's" and zeroes are round.

I make errors of grammar and syntax now and then that I attribute to an advanced age. But you'll never hear me say, "Loan me some money." Mrs. Viola Meekins, and Dr. Martin Rosenberg, my junior high and high school English teachers would go ape, saying, "Sentences need verbs!" Loan is a noun, where the verb lend is required. Not every sentence has an explicit verb, which brings up my next annoyance. How many times have you heard a person say "He is not as tall as me" or "They are not as fast as us."? Every time I hear errors like these, I visualize Dr. Rosenberg's twisted, sarcastic expression as he's about to verbally pounce on a student. "Are you saying, 'He is not as tall as me am.' or 'They are not as fast as us are.'?" That's nonsense, he'd explain; the words am and are are elliptical (missing, but understood) verbs and their subjects must be in the nominative case (I and we). By the way, this grammar instruction occurred at North Philly's Benjamin Franklin High School in the early 50s before black kids were seen as victims and teachers worried about self-esteem.

Another petty annoyance is when a person knocks on my office door and asks, "May I disturb you?" Depending on my mood at the time, I might reply, "You've already disturbed me; what do you want?" I wonder why people don't use the more sensible alternative: "Excuse me for disturbing you."

Then there's the grocery store checkout line. Sometimes a person with just one item to purchase asks, "Do you mind if I go in front of you?" Once in awhile I'll experiment and courtesously answer, "Yes, I do mind." Most often the person looks at me in shock, slowly turning into mild anger. I wonder why. If a question is asked that can have a yes or no answer, why get miffed if a no answer comes? Sometimes I ask people, "Do you mind if I smoke?" A lot of times, I get a yes I do mind answer, but I don't get miffed.

Speaking of smoking. Sometimes I'm invited to an event - it could be a boring meeting, conference or lecture - and a flat no response is probably not appropriate. I'll ask whether smoking is permitted. Most times the answer is no. Then I tell the person, "Sorry, I can't come because I just have to smoke." I tell them, "You have your rules but I have mine."

Then there's the airplane pilot. I'm sound asleep. The pilot comes on the public address system to announce, "Those seated on the right side of the aircraft can see the Grand Canyon." Sometimes I wonder whether there's a person on the ground saying, "Those looking up can see an airplane."

Despite these petty annoyances, I generally make it through the day not losing focus on my big job of trying to save our country.

Walter E. Williams


September 23, 1997