Larry Lansburgh: Heavy equipment operators and the English language
My friend Tiffany Kalashnikov has the face and figure of a supermodel, but she is a heavy equipment operator. She told me she had four reasons for choosing her profession.
“And the fourth reason,” she said, “is the most important.”
“Okay. Let’s start at the beginning. First reason?”
“Unlike super models, heavy equipment operators do useful work,” said Tiffany as she wiped a bit of grease off her hand. “Plus we can eat all we want.”
“A super model has a short career. I’ll still be earning a good living when I look like Clint Eastwood in drag.”
“Heavy equipment operators are artists, sculptors working with precision on a grand scale,” she said. “And not only that — road grader, roller, dozer — how strong do you have to be to push and pull a few levers? It’s skill, not muscle, that counts.”
“Now … drum roll. The most important reason you’re a heavy equipment operator?”
“We are one of the last remaining groups who speak American English as it should be spoken,” Tiffany said. “Most other Americans now sound like wimps.”
“Give me some examples.”
“People say ‘I was like’ to mean ‘I was’ or ‘I said.’”
“Well, everybody except heavy equipment operators and a steadily decreasing number of English professors.”
“You’re right,” I said. “The other day I actually heard a speech therapist say ‘I was like.’”
“Oh, that’s rich,” she replied. “A speech therapist. Put a space between the ‘e’ and the ‘r’ in ‘therapist’ and you’ll see what that person is doing to the language. Just the other day, a middle-age man told me about something that surprised him and he said, ‘I was like, ‘whoa!’”
“What did you say to him?”
“I responded, ‘Is that what you were … like?’ I gave him a withering sneer as I said it.”
“Did he wither?”
“He looked at me like a baffled bovine.”
A baffled bovine. I love listening to Tiffany.
“What else?” I asked.
“You’ll now hear people ending all of their sentences with a rising inflection, as if they’re asking a question.”
“Give me an example.”
“I’ll be leaving for Europe tomorrow? But I’ve got everything packed? And I made sure my passport’s up to date?”
“Sounds pathetic,” I said.
“Here’s what is really pathetic. Even graduates of exclusive west coast universities are talking like this.”
“Why do they do it?”
“To make us nod our heads, to signal we understand. I don’t nod my head. I just stare at ‘em. It seems to be the only defense against such puerile linguistic perversions.”
“Tiffany, what are people supposed to do?”
“For starters, never, ever, under any circumstances say, ‘It’s like.’ Don’t say, ‘It’s like I had a long day today. You just had a long day. No ‘it’s like’ about it.”
“Why do you get so worked up over this stuff? Most people don’t think it’s important.”
“I am a heavy equipment operator,” she said. “We have high standards. We are not wimps, so we don’t talk like wimps.”
“True. I can’t imagine a heavy equipment operator saying, ‘So it’s like I needed to make, like, a level space? And then the foreman, like, came by? And he was like, ‘whoa!’”
“Anybody talking like that couldn’t be a heavy equipment operator,” Tiffany growled. “Couldn’t crush an egg with a 30-ton roller.”
“I imagine you could crush an egg just by frowning at it.”
“Sure,” smiled Tiffany Kalashnikov as she adjusted the strand of pearls that set off her hard hat so nicely.
“I can also shuffle a deck of cards with a backhoe. What do you expect from someone named after a jewelry store and an assault rifle?”
Larry Lansburgh is the author of “The World’s Greatest Snappy Comebacks.” He lives in Nevada City.
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Parents are becoming aware of the use of critical race theory in their children’s instruction, particularly as distance learning has given them a window into their classrooms.