Jim Mullen: Words fail me
Special to The Union
“Just don’t Muldoon me,” Bruce said when I asked him if I could hitch a ride with him to the gym. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“What’s a Muldoon?”
“It’s not a what; it’s a who. Muldoon was a guy I used to know. Whenever we drove somewhere together, to the grocery store or the hardware store, he’d always say, ‘Do you mind if I stop at the dry cleaner’s to pick up my shirts?’ or ‘Do you mind if we stop at the drugstore first?’ Every little 10-minute trip would take an hour and a half. Finally I had to stop telling him where I was going, or he’d want to tag along.”
It turns out, I had been Muldooned many, many times. I just didn’t know there was a word for it.
Once, an elderly neighbor asked me if I could drive her to the vet to pick up her dog.
Sure, OK. I’m a nice guy; why not? So we got in the car and I asked her where the vet’s office was.
My neighbor said, “Oh, I don’t know the address. Just drive around and I’ll know it when I see it.”
That took half a day.
I suppose it wasn’t technically Muldooning because we didn’t make any unplanned stops, but it felt the same.
There must be thousands of things we don’t have words for, but should.
Often Sue will ask me, “Can you do something for me?” and the only proper answer for a husband would be “sure,” or maybe “in a minute.”
But my answer is always “What?”
That is the wrong answer, but she’s also asking the wrong question. It’s much too vague.
What is the “something” she wants me to do? Is it something evil? Unethical? Is it against my religion?
I’m sorry, you’ll have to be more specific. Like, “Can you do the dishes for me?” or “Can you rake the leaves today?” instead of this open-ended “Can you do something for me?”
While it drives me crazy, I can’t see calling it a “Sue.”
Besides, “Don’t Sue me” would mean something entirely different.
Still, there should be a word for her vague questioning.
Is there a word for the right time to arrive at a dinner party? In the rural parts of the country, when people say, “Come to dinner at 6,” they mean for you to arrive at 6 o’clock and sit down to eat.
In the city, when someone says, “Come to dinner at 7:30,” if you show up before 8, you’re likely to catch your hosts just getting out of the shower.
At 8, they might start serving appetizers and drinks. Dinner will be served around 9.
These rules are never spoken, and must be sussed out over time; your results may vary depending on where you live. But there should be a word that describes the actual time that you are actually expected to arrive for dinner.
How many times have you been eating with someone and they say, “This food is hot!” and you say, “Hot-hot or spicy-hot?”
There should be an unambiguous word meaning spicy-hot.
Once, we had an old friend from the city visiting us, along with his new wife, whom we were meeting for the first time.
After an hour’s casual conversation, she asked where the bathroom was.
Sue told her to take a left out the living room door, and as our guest got to the doorway, she turned to her husband and said, “Watch my purse.”
We’re sure she didn’t mean to be rude; in a restaurant in the city, I’m sure that is a common and important instruction from a wife to a husband. In our living room, not so much.
So what do we call that slip-up? The words “blunder,” “faux pas,” “rude,” and “embarrassing” do not really get across that it was also unintentionally funny.
There should be a word for it.
Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.
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