Sentences I Hope Never to Use

Trouble with the hardwareOne very specific desire I have is to reach the end of my life (a long time from now) without ever having used the phrase working closely with.

Nothing wrong with it syntactically or semantically, but it strikes me as a repellent cliché that drops like uncontrolled saliva from the mouths of self-justifying administrators under press questioning. A question like “What steps has your agency taken since the explosion and fire?” is answered with: “My office has been working closely with emergency authorities and community groups.”

Yeah, yeah. Your people call their people when necessary, and you had lunch with one of their assistant deputy managers last Tuesday, so that counts as you being hard at work justifying your six-digit salary.

My horror at the idea of actually uttering the phrase myself is just a minor esthetic-linguistic eccentricity on my part. There are many more where it came from (like my idiosyncratic distaste for the odd phrase person of color).

I don’t mean to include phrases like goodness gracious! or young whippersnapper, for which the main problem is that they make you sound approximately 100 years old. And I’m not referring to sentences like As far as money, I think we’re OK, which feel ungrammatical to me despite having caught on with other Standard English speakers. I’m not being prescriptive, or critiquing grammar (for once, I hear you cry). I’m just talking about perfectly grammatical sentences — use them as much as you wish —that I hope to die without ever having been tempted to utter in context. Let me cite a few.

It was like being in a movie! (Vapid and ridiculous, this is included amazingly often among the things people say when a TV or radio reporter asks them about their real-life experience of some recent bombing or movie or crash.)

Hmm… Can’t quite see how to get this extinguisher off the wall bracket. (I may seem somewhat under-skilled when confronting flat-pack furniture for which some assembly is required, but I like to think that in a true crisis with the building in flames I would reveal myself as a sort of Jason Bourne character who doesn’t have trouble with hardware.)

Hey, watch this! (The last dumb bragging of so many Darwin-award candidates.)

Which one of these forks is the one for the salad, your Majesty? (The lunch invitation from the Palace may never come, but if it ever does, I’ll attend a course in fork theory and other aspects of mega-upper-class table etiquette, or I’ll just watch to see what the Queen does.)

Uh … where am I? (The stereotypical first thing everyone says in film and even real life when they come round after fainting. I must admit to having actually said it once: I was in extremely severe muscular back pain and a friend foolishly started chatting about the more unpleasant aspects of spinal surgery, and I just went out like a light. I have no idea why I asked the stupid question when, half a minute later, I came to: I could see my own bedroom ceiling, so I wasn’t in serious doubt about my spatio-temporal coordinates. I won’t say it next time I revive after passing out.)

We really shouldn’t be doing this. You’re one of my students. (Why is this student even on the couch in your apartment, you lecherous manipulative halfwit?)

Umm … this next stuff is kind of interesting, but I think I’ll skip these slides [zip, zip, zip, zip, zip, ...] because I see I’m running out of time. (A direct admission of being unfit to be allowed near a lapel mike: Someone who can’t plan out a lecture to fit the time slot but is actually wasting some of the precious time he does still have by voicing a metacomment about how much he is now overrunning his originally agreed upon time. Get a grip: Learn how to present the right amount of material in the right amount of time before you even mount that podium, you bumbling disgrace to the lecturing art. You don’t hear Lang Lang lift his fingers off the keys and say, “This next bit has some really classic Chopin-style complex chord progressions with simple top-line melody, but I’ll leave it out because the concert is overrunning a bit.”)

I have no intention of resigning. (An incredibly foolhardy implied prediction of surviving the current brouhaha; always seems to be followed within about 36 hours by a humiliating resignation.)

Simple, grammatical, meaningful English sentences, chosen from a range so large that linguists usually idealize it as denumerably infinite, but examples that I want to live out my life without ever having used. A personal goal regarding the content of my lifetime linguistic output. Perhaps you have a few such goals of your own?

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