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Just what, exactly does that mean?

Food For Thought

I seem to watch more television these days than I once did. I suppose it’s because I’m not as busy– physically, at least, though my mind continues to flit around like orioles in the orchard and has me believing I’m busy even if I’m not. I used to hear television more than see it. I’d catch the news while I was cooking supper but it was mostly audio– the video consisted of mere glimpses, and continuity was spotty since the remote was always in someone else’s hands. Today, I get control of that little black box and am allowed to sit and watch every minute of a program. And that includes the commercials which I find to often be more interesting than the programs they sponsor.
Several years ago, I commented on the sloppy language used in some of the commercials. One that particularly annoyed me was for a pain killer. The actor who recited the sales pitch said, “If you have arthritis like me...” The proper statement should have been, “If you have arthritis like I have...” The sentence, as delivered, seemed to compare the arthritis to the speaker’s self, rather than comparing the arthritis the other person suffered to that of the speaker. Now, I realize most of us understood what was intended even though it was stated poorly, but as a writer, I feel it is my obligation to take care of the language. And that goes for all people who make their livings through its use; writers, actors, newscasters, writers of commercials, etc. There are, no doubt, other people who objected to and commented on that sloppy disrespect for our language, so I don’t take credit for the improvement, but I was gratified to note, not too long afterward, the wording in that commercial became a much more acceptable, “If you have arthritis like I do...”
These days, as I watch more television than in the past, and pay greater attention to the commercials, I notice grammatical errors in nearly every one of them. I try to be tolerant, since I realize this is the way the average person talks, and the commercials probably are written to be more verbally familiar to the average viewer. Fair enough. But when I listen to the statements and questions that make up those commercials, many of them don’t really make sense. Here are some examples;
A breathing aid commercial admonishes people who breathe through their mouths while sleeping to, “Shut your mouth and say goodnight, mouth-breathers.” Each time I hear that, I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be much easier to say goodnight if one did so before shutting their mouth. Maybe a ventriloquist could manage to speak clearly with his mouth shut, but the rest of us would have a little trouble.
And there’s that bathtub commercial where they make a shell they install over your present bathtub. “Isn’t that amazing?” exclaims the woman delivering the sales pitch. Not particularly, I think. No more amazing than slip-covers on the furniture, artificial fingernails, a fresh coat of paint, or any other cover-up that does no more than alter the appearance of something. The real stinger, though, is the statement, “A new bathtub changes your life.” I wish someone could explain to me how the appearance of your bathtub alters your life in any significant way. I can see where acquiring a bathtub, when one has previously been without one, might bring about some notable changes in one’s daily life, but adding a new, glossy surface or changing the color of an existing one hardly looks like a life-altering event. A person’s life would have to be dull indeed before a bathtub renewal could change it much.
You may think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill by insisting that the language of television commercials is of importance. Remember, our children watch more television than we did at their age. Like sponges, they soak up examples, attitudes, facts, prejudices, habits and sloppy grammar indiscriminately. What they see and hear become their standards for the way things are and should be. Humans have lost most of any ability we may have had for telepathic communication. Language is the best thing we have left. We need to keep it concise and clear so we can communicate precise meanings, including subtle details that can often be transmitted through special words and usages. When we let our usages grow sloppy and indistinct, we risk the ability to communicate clearly. An example of this breakdown is given in the commercial depicting a young woman having trouble with a copy machine. She grabs a torn sheet of paper and wads it up, saying in an irritated voice, “Seriously?” Any possible explanation involving the meaning of the word “seriously” falls pathetically short of the natural reaction to the situation, which would be something like Dag-nab-it!