Tag Archives: office

It Ain’t Pretty, and It Certainly Ain’t Good

Pretty. Good.

Two perfectly fine words, yes? Sure they are, if they’re hanging out at the same party or stuck beside each other in traffic. But should those two words hook up, or say, carpool, then those two words ain’t fine at all, no sir. Put those two words together and you have a harbinger of doom. Let me explain.

The phrase ‘pretty good’ has two meanings. Adjectival. One indicates that the thing being described is acceptable, admirable, close to good. The other indicates that the thing being described is unacceptable, subpar, and no good.

“Pretty good.” The cavernous dichotomy of meaning tied to this two-word phrase is highly problematic. The meaning of the received message depends greatly on the body language and intonation of the communicator.

For example: you are out with a friend and you want to tell her that you think Pizza Hut’s new Stuffed Pretzel Crust is to your liking. You’d smile, turn your face a few degrees to one side and nod. “It’s pretty good.” However, if you think the pizza tastes like rusty nails covered in ketchup but observe that your friend is loving every bite, your response to the question “What do you think?” would be to cock your head slightly to the one side while shrugging your shoulders and offering a politically correct half smile. “It’s pretty good.” See the difference? Same words. The entire message depends on body language. This is why talking to people face to face is ideal.

Another tool in relaying the intended meaning of ‘pretty good’ is tone. Intonation. The way words are pronounced is a powerful indicator of their meaning. “Pretty good”, with a short ‘pretty’ and a drawn out, warm ‘good’, tells your listener that the thing at hand is satisfactory, pleasing. “Pretty good”, said with ‘pretty’ and ‘good’ being of the same length but with a drop in tone that ends in flat-lined silence means that the thing could be, in a pinch, somewhat satisfactory. Try it. Go ahead. Say “pretty good,” and then say “pretty good.” Hear the difference? And that’s just the tone of your voice. This is why talking to people on the phone is only quasi-ideal.

But what if there is no opportunity for body language nor tone? Let’s say your communication is limited to the written word. Now what? You can write paragraphs of exposition, you can state your case clearly and cite examples, but at some point, you’re doomed to use the words “pretty good.” And then, how the reader interprets your meaning is entirely out of your control. Two perfectly innocuous words, put together, could imply only one of two things. It could be “it’s not too shabby” or it could be “it sucks.” This isn’t a big deal if you’re telling a friend about pizza, but it is utterly disastrous if you’re reporting third quarter performance to the board of directors. This is why email totally blows.  jenny phone

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Filed under autobigraphy, communication, conflict, fiction, friendship, humor, irony, relationships, sarcasm, Uncategorized, writing

The Winking Trap

I winked at someone last night. It was harmless. Nothing will come of it, except, you know, the obvious. The trap.

Going to Staples at 9:30pm on a Wednesday is hardly what I would call a good time, but there I was, selecting binders and 3-hole paper for a project that was just assigned to me – due the next morning after having had languished on my boss’ desk for weeks. I needed CDs, too. I hate shopping for any kind of technology, the choices are overwhelming, and my ignorance, mired in a lack of interest, leaves me wide-eyed and slack-jawed in the aisles.

He came to my assistance unbidden. When I feel like a moron I typically like to be left alone but there he was, a diminutive man asking me if I needed read/write or read only and then nodding professionally as he handed me a stack of CDs. My problem was solved, my angst alleviated, and then he was gone.

I paid for my supplies and walked out of the store, pausing when I got to the sidewalk. “I’ll send a letter to his manager,” I thought. “Service like that deserves to be acknowledged.” I turned and went back into the store. I took a cursory walk thru the aisles but my hero was nowhere to be found. I returned to the cashier. “There’s a man who helped me in the technology section,” I said. “Do you know his name?”

“Was he Hispanic?” she asked. The question gave me pause. Was that racist? Was the fact that she was black make it un-racist? Did my being Caucasian make me racist? I pulled myself together. “Yes, he was,” I said. “And very friendly.”

“That’s Rubin,” she said. “Wait, was he wearing a shirt like mine?” she tugged on the hem of her red shirt.

“Yes, he was,” I said. “He’s not a tall man… I’m going to send a note to the manager, to tell him how helpful Rubin was,” I said, as I grinned and winked.

That’s how it happened. That was the wink. And now I have to live with the consequences of that wink, the certainty that I’ve set into play a stream of winks that will plague me until it’s replaced by some other involuntary twitch – maybe the horrendous thumbs-up or the damning finger gun with the corner of the mouth ‘chitk-chitk’. The good habit of thanking people for commendable service has let loose the bad habit of asinine gestures and verbal emissions. It’s not fair that it took years to develop the good habit and mere moments to unleash the bad. Moreover, it’s not fair to the Rubins of the world. I simply can’t afford to be trapped like this. It’s just not worth it to be appreciative.

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Hair and Liberty

When I arrived to the office this morning, my hair took it upon itself to annoy me by hanging in my face.

In the absence of barrettes or bobby pins, I MacGyver’d restraining devices from paperclips.

I think the result makes a statement about liberation from the constructs of traditional beauty, while providing commentary about the shackles of a 9-to-5, hose-and-heels workplace.

Moreover, I hope my hair doesn’t rust.



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