ColumnistsDruger's Zoo

Clichés and What They Really Mean to Me

By Marvin Druger

clicheOur society is filled with clichés. These are stereotyped comments or phrases that we hear over and over again until they lose their appeal from overuse. We are so accustomed to these clichés that we seldom even think about them. Sometimes, I like to analyze the cliché and respond to it in an amusing way. Here are some common clichés and how my mind responds to them:

• When we call a physician’s office, we are likely to hear, “If this is a true emergency, please hang up and call 911.” My twisted interpretation of this greeting is, “If this is a true emergency, please hang up and call a real doctor.”

• A waiter or waitress in a restaurant is likely to interrupt your meal and say, “How’s the food so far?” My temptation is to respond, “So far, it’s terrible, but I’m hoping it will get better as I keep eating it.”

• A waiter or waitress asks, “Can I get you anything else?” My reply: “Sure. How about a new car and about $50,000 in cash?”

• A waiter or waitress often asks: “Is everything OK?” My twisted response is, “Sure. My best friend just died, I got fired from my job, and my wife is filing for a divorce—otherwise, everything is fine.

• A waiter or waitress asks: “Have you been here before?” My reply: “Yes. Don’t you remember? I’m the guy who gave you a big tip by mistake.”

• A waiter or waitress asks, “Can I take these dishes?” My reply: “No, I’d like to leave them on the table so that I can remember what I ate.”

• Another common restaurant comment is, “How are we doing today?” “Who the hell are ‘we?” I’m doing fine, but I didn’t know that you were also part of my family.”

• Another common restaurant comment is, “Have you been here before.” My inner response is, “Yes, but I won’t make that mistake again.”

• Yet another common waitress’ comment is, “I’m Jane. I’m going to take care of you today.” When I hear this comment, I envision myself lying in a hospital bed, receiving tender, loving care from the waitress.

• “Older people often get the greeting, “Gee. You look terrific.” I interpret this remark as, “I thought you would look much worse than you do. In fact, I thought you were dead!”

• The storekeeper often says, “How can I help you?” My imaginative response is, “I need someone to mow my lawn, fix the dishwasher, paint the kitchen and, by the way, I could use about $50,000.” Another version of this cliché is, “May I help you?” My response is, “Sure, I need as much help as I can get!”

• “Don’t put me under the bus,” is a cliché meant to ask someone not to denigrate or insult their behavior. My variation is, “Don’t put me under the bus, or train, or car, or anything that moves. Actually, my interpretation is that, “Your behavior is so obnoxious that I would really like to put you under a bus.”

• “How are you?” is a common greeting. At my age, if I respond, “the same,” that’s good news.

• A common greeting in the men’s locker room at the health club is, “How’s it going?” I wonder if “it” means, “Is your heart still beating? Is your car is still running? Is your computer still working?

• A wrong turn in your car results in the GPS response, “Recalculating.” I imagine the additional comment, “How can you be that stupid? Now, I have to figure out where you are again.”

  In business phone calls, we often hear, “This call may be monitored for quality purposes.”  This comment makes me feel that the FBI is listening to the call and, if I say something stupid, it may cost me a fine and a few years in prison.

• If you want to speak to a live human on the phone, say: “Live human, please.” I made a call to a customer service representative in a company. His voice answered the phone and said, “Please leave a message and I’ll return your call shortly.” Then, I tried to leave a message and was told, “This mailbox is full. Thanks for calling. Goodbye.”

• Another frequent compliment when someone sees you is, “I love your hair.” My inner response is, “Would you like a few strands?”

• A common greeting is, “What’s up?” I wonder if they are talking about the stock market?

• A familiar remark when leaving someone is, “Take care.” I wonder if that phrase means take care of your computer? Or take care of your sick relative? Or something else?

• “You can’t please everyone” is a common cliché. This makes me think of a remark by an ex-friend when I told him that I had taught an estimated 50,000 students in my career. He said, “Yes, you have influenced and offended a lot of people.”

• Whenever I hear that a person has “nerves of steel,” I wonder if that person also has an “iron stomach,” “wooden legs” and “a heart of gold?”

• It’s common to tell someone to “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes” and “If the shoes fit, wear them.” This reminds me of the time I accidentally picked up someone else’s gym shoes in the health club locker room and wore them while exercising. They felt great, until the owner of the shoes caught up with me.

• We are often told, “Don’t cry over spilt milk.” Older people are more likely to cry over a glass of spilt beer or wine.

• “The early bird catches the worm.” I get up early every day, but I still haven’t caught any worms. I try to get up very early each morning so that I will have more conscious time in my life.

• “Better late than never” is a common remark. I agree with this cliché. I always try to arrive late to the old age exercise class at the health club, so that I have to do less during the class period.

• The final cliché is one that never loses its appeal, i.e., “Laughter is the best medicine.” There is humor in every situation. When times are bad, laughter heals. When I gave a talk at a meeting in Mexico, my presentation was translated from English to Spanish by a translator. After my talk, I said, “Thanks, Pedro, you did a great job. They even laughed at my jokes.” Pedro replied, “No. I’m sorry, but they didn’t laugh at your jokes. When you told a joke, I said, “The speaker has just told a joke. Please laugh.” I hope he was joking. Pedro also told me that he once translated a speech for someone who told inappropriate jokes. So, Pedro told his own jokes and everyone laughed.

There is even humor in death. My wife, Pat, and I always had a warm, joking relationship. Her very last words to me before she died were, “Marvin, shut up!” Maybe, this a good time for me to stop writing this article.