Don’t call me a cab. Idioms and pedants.

Here’s another speech I gave. But, unlike the other ones, there’s no need to imagine a Scottish brogue.
I’m sure most of you have seen, in movies and television, the grand tradition of the twelve-step program. (Of course, none of you have been in such a program.) If you remember, when somebody stands to speak, he will introduce himself and then admit to his addiction. To which everyone else replies by saying “Hi, <insert name here>.”
I’d like for you to join me in my brand new 12-step program. I’m going to introduce myself and you will all reply “Hi, Michael.” Ready? Here we go: “Hello, my name is Michael and I’m a pedant” (gestures to audience to encourage response) Okay, I feel much better now. The first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem, right? Now, I’m sure most of you know what a pedant is, but there might be a few that don’t.  Can anyone give me a definition of a “pedant?”(look for answers from the audience)Here’s one definition: one who is pedantic. Nice, huh? A bit of a pedantic definition. Well, here’s a better definition: one who is overly literal or rigidly academic.

I’ve been a pedant most of my life. For example, one of my pet peeves is the way people use the word “espouse.” Frequently people (especially in the press) use it to mean: to spout out or as a synonym for expound. But, the word really means: to marry or join together.

But, I’m a recovering pedant. It’s an addiction for me and I’m trying to get past it. One topic on which I have been dogmatically pedantic is on idioms. I would play the ironic and dry humorist when people would use cliche idioms like, “Could you give me a hand?” or “Should I pick you up?” To which I would reply, “I’d like to keep my hands for myself, thank you.” or “You seriously want to try and pick up a guy like me?” But, Idioms are fundamental to the English language. Let me illustrate:

A Russian business man traveled to New York on a business trip in hopes to land a lucrative deal with an American company. The deal falls through and he goes to a bar near his hotel to drown his sorrows. As closing time approaches, the bartender asks, “Should I call you a cab?” To which the Russian replies in a thick accent, “Don’t you dare call me ‘a cab.’ I don’t like to be insulted.”

Our poor Russian friend was NOT being pedantic, he simply didn’t understand English idioms. The phrase “Call you a cab” is idiomatic and, like I said, Idioms are fundamental to the English language. I challenge you to try and go an entire day, in your normal routine, without using an idiom. See, I just used the idiom, “Go your entire day,” but where are you “going?” If you manage to do it, you’ll sound like an uptight… well, pedant. Which is why I am now a recovering pedant. Because, I realized that the beauty of our language is based on people saying something completely different from what they actually mean.

You see, as speakers, we should use words and phrases that our audience understands and Idioms fill this purpose. For example, if I say to an English-speaking audience, “Now, I’d like to open the floor to questions,” most people will understand what I mean without me creating a hole in the floor or sounding stodgy by saying, “And now, I will, to one such as yourself, allow this time to inquire of me as you choose.”

So, I ask for your help; help me avoid pedantitism… that’s not a real word, but only a pedant would care. Especially, in regards to using idioms. When you speak in idioms around me, like “I’d like to turn the meeting over to…” and I respond with a pedantic response like, “Let’s hope nobody falls out the windows as you try to turn the meeting over…” quietly remind me that I’ve fallen off the wagon.

And, while we’re at it, for the rest of the pedants in the room, let’s encourage them to join me in Pedants Anonymous. When someone uses beautiful idioms in their speech, we should smile with awe and wonder at our beautiful language instead of pedantically correcting them.

So, bend over backwards to give me a hand. Drop me off after picking me up. Call me a cab if you have to. I now turn the meeting over to the Toastmaster.

So, are you a pedant? Recovering pedant? What do you think?

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