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Kerth: Some irritating phrases make my head erupt

I suppose we all have them, don’t we – those pet peeves about the irritating way other people say things. Sometimes they can drive you so crazy you want to feed them a sock to chew on, just to get them to stop talking.

The worst offender I ever met was a former college professor, way back in the 1960s. He had an irritating habit of saying, “Today in class we will attempt to try to ...”

I don’t think I ever heard what came next, because by then my irritation meter was off the chart. I wanted to holler at him, “Attempt ... to try? So we’re not going to DO anything in class today? We’re not even going to TRY to do anything in class today? Today we’re just going to ATTEMPT to TRY to do something?”

But I never hollered anything like that because I was attempting to try to pass the course.

Over the next hour, he would repeat the phrase often enough to keep my blood pressure cooking away at gasket-busting levels, threatening to send the top of my head erupting in a geyser of goo. To heck with worrying about passing the course – now I was attempting to try to keep my socks on my feet and out of the professor’s mouth.

A friend of mine had the same prof during a different class period. I asked him if he noticed the old boy’s quirky phrase, and my friend pulled his hair in frustration. “Yes!” he cried. “It drives me crazy!”

For the rest of the semester, every day I bet my friend a dime that Dr. Attempt-To-Try would say the phrase more times in my class period than he would say it in his. My class notes consisted of little more than hash marks, listing the 20 or 30 times I had to grit my teeth through the maddening phrase.

Sometimes, if I really needed the money, I would raise my hand and ask the prof a question I thought might get him to say it again ... and again ... and again.

Fortunately, I have left that college and professor far behind, and I have never again run into another human being on this planet who has ever uttered that maddening phrase.

But still, there are other phrases out there that get my goo-geyser skull-cap rattling on a daily basis. In fact, there is one in particular I hear so often, there is a good chance you are one of those offenders.

I’m pretty sure I first heard this maddening phrase sometime in the mid-1970s. At first I thought it was a pretty clever way to get a point across. But now I hear it used so often, and at such inappropriate times,

I just want to walk around with a laundry basket full of socks to feed to people who say it.

The first person I heard use the phrase was a friend named Sandy, who was the kind of intelligent, articulate, assertive 1970s woman who would make any other woman proud to be a woman.

She was asking another person to do her a simple favor, but she didn’t say, “Would you please,” or “I wish you would,” or even “I want you to ...”

No. What she said was, “I need you to do something for me.”

And the person she was speaking to leaped to perform the favor Sandy was asking her to do.

And I thought, “What a brilliant way of getting what you want!”

After all, it is easy to ignore the request of somebody who simply wants you to do something, isn’t it?

OK, so you want the salt shaker. I want a full head of hair. Get over it.

But you NEED me to pass you the salt shaker? Here it is! Let it never be said that I stood idly by while some poor lady dropped dead from a severe salt deficiency.

Besides, who doesn’t want to feel needed? It makes the whole day worth living.

As a kid growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, I don’t think Mom ever told me what HER needs were. Instead, she said what needed doing. As in, “Those dishes need washing.” Or, if that didn’t get me off the couch,“Do you need a good smack to get you going on those dishes?”

And then along came the ’70s – the Me Decade – which taught us a whole new way to talk about things, and people, and our relationships with them. It wasn’t, “The lawn needs mowing.” It was, “I need you to mow the lawn for me.” The lawn has needs? That’s ’60s hippie talk. If you want to be a with-it ’70s kind of guy, you’ll express YOUR need to have the lawn’s needs met for you.

We had discovered the practical usefulness of personal neediness.

Since then the phrase has caught on everywhere. You can’t turn around these days without bumping into needy people for whom you are their only hope.

And I don’t think it’s clever anymore.

I think it’s irritating.

The problem, of course, is that it’s getting harder to say no to any request without risking disaster. Yeah, OK, so you need me to give you the cardiac defibrillator. Cool your jets, already. I’m still waiting for this guy to pass me the salt shaker I told him I needed him to give me.

So if you are one of those needy people who go around telling folks what you need them to do for you, don’t be surprised if you see some guy’s head erupt in a geyser of goo behind you when the checkout girl tells you, “I need you to sign the credit slip for me,” and you tell her, “I need you to give me a pen.”

It’s driving me so crazy, I’ve stopped wearing socks, just in case.

And because my feet are cold, I need you to attempt to try to stop it for me, darn it.

• Tom “T. R.” Kerth is a Sun City resident and retired English teacher from Maine South High School, Park Ridge. He regularly writes a column for the Sun City Herald. He can be reached at trkerth@yahoo.com.

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