Humans have mouths. This gives our species the unique ability to communicate verbally. Sometimes, wrongly. Three are three examples.
1. Michelle and I wanted to find an ophthalmologist (as opposed to an optometrist) for our kids. But most specialist eye doctors don’t accept kids under the age of five. So I looked up a few in our area. When I called an office in Scarsdale they said, “Hello, how I can help you?” I asked, “Um, hi, yes, do you accept little children?” Todd, who works right across from me and was unaware of my intentions, seemed concerned. He thought I might be trying to deal my children on the black market.
2. My wife, feeling charitable at Christmastime, rushed outside when she saw two guys in our driveway who collect trash for the Village of Pelham Manor. She gave them a well-earned tip for taking care of us for our six months in our new home. She greeted them by saying, ‘Thank you and Merry Christmas! You guys are the best garbage people ever!’ So much for semantics.
3. In 1998, my friend Ellen and I were hiking in the Pyrenees Mountains. At that point in my life, I had met very few people who couldn’t not speak fluent English. We’re up near the peak. It’s super windy. We meet an a fellow hiker, around our age. I ask him his name. But he isn’t understanding me. So I ask again, this time I speak slower. And much, much louder. “HELL-O! MY NAME IS ER-IC! WHAT IS YOUR NAME?” Ellen looks at me horrified. “He’s Spanish. Not deaf or retarded.”
Mastering the English language remains a work in progress.