I expect our older readers remember NBC newsman (and occasional newsscold) Edwin Newman. Apart from his qualities as a reporter and on-air newsreader, he was known for his (pre-Safire) concern for language. That was on the whole a nifty thing, I thought. I'm a confirmed fan of respect for language, which enhances communication.
But I was always uncomfortable with some of his biggest bugbears, or rather I should say I wasn't at all uncomfortable with some things that drove him crazy. Notably, he was an indefatigable crusader against stock phrases like "Have a nice day," on the ground that such phrases really have no meaning, and people don't mean anything by them anyway, so it's all a horrible charade and a debasement of language.
Or something like that. It's hard for me to be sure I'm representing his argument properly because I didn't buy it then and still don't.
I guess I do have a problem with the word "nice" in the expression "Have a nice day," because nice really doesn't have much meaning. It has some, though, and I'm certainly not unalterably opposed to it. But in this context, even I find it a trifle wishy-woshy. I'm more likely to say, "Have a good day."
Just as I've been saying, "Have a good holiday," to the semi-anonymous people I've had contact with yesterday and today -- the security people I pass on my way out of my place of business, for example, or the supermarket cashier. I realize that Ed Newman, who died on August 13, at age 91, is past caring, but I just want to let him know that I meant every damned word of it.
And what drives me crazy is: Why would anyone assume that I don't mean it?
I mean, how much does it cost, either psychically or financially, to have and express this extremely modest bit of fellow-feeling toward one's fellow citizens? Answers: nothing and nothing. I certainly agree that anyone who doesn't feel such simple good will toward his/her fellow humans should in no way feel compelled to claim such feelings. I'll go further: Anyone who's truly indifferent to whether the building security guy or the supermarket cashier has a good holiday should definitely not fib about it. That really does pollute discourse. But does this really describe people generally?
I don't even have a problem with common expressions like "How are you?" Just the other day I heard a media wag, who took it for granted that the questioner has no interest in how the questionee is, joking that you could really stick it to the asshole by going into a detailed recitation of your assorted miseries. Won't that serve the sumbitch right?
Well, again, no, I don't think so. It's very likely true that the questioner isn't expecting a half-hour disquisition from the questionee, but really, are people so stupid that in formulating an answer they are utterly incapable of taking account of the context of the question? The questionee has an opportunity to provide some simple bits of information, based on the realities of the relationship.
Not many of us take advantage of that opportunity, and I think that's kind of too bad. I wish more of the people I asked how they are felt comfortable imparting, in a simple, non-impositional way, some information. If you've been better -- because, say, your cat is dying -- it's not all that difficult to convey this without unduly burdening anyone. Sure, you have to pick your spots; unless you've established a relationship with the bus driver, say, this may qualify as "too much information." On the other hand, if you have the same driver every day, and he or she has the time and inclination to mention that his/her kid just won the school spelling bee, would that be so terrible?
It ticks me off that these smart folks take it for granted that people don't mean anything when they see these things, and the people they say them to don't give a damn. I find that not only depressing but, as far as I can tell, inaccurate.
Same deal with such polite expressions as "please" and "thank you" and "you're welcome." Like a lot of people, I'm sure, I was brought up with forced usage of these hoary old expressions. They were drilled into me, and I'm sure for years they didn't mean anything to me. But probably without my realizing it was happening, the phrases took on meaning. And eventually they came to mean, well, exactly what they say: "please" and "thank you" and "you're welcome." Not profound sentiments, surely, but real, and worth expressing, I think. They help keep the social fabric together. (Uh-oh, is that socialism?)
Is it really so hard to believe that a person can actually mean such things? Again, if you don't mean 'em, don't bother saying 'em. The social order won't crumble. But why shouldn't you mean them? Or at least why should it be assumed that you don't?
video details and more
A World's Fair Diary: This is the first ten minutes of NBC News's Edwin Newman report on the 1964 New York World's Fair, which aired on July 30, 1964. (The rest of the report is posted in five additional clips.)
Let me just conclude by saying, I hope you're having a lovely Thanksgiving, and please have a great holiday weekend.
[POSTSCRIPT: You're welcome.]
Read The Full Article: