i used to get very frustrated when people spoke in sentences where the clauses didn’t seem to go together. last night, i heard someone on a show say, “and we never spoke until i found out she passed away.”

since she wasn’t talking about conducting a séance, i was a bit confused as to how this conversation took place, seeing as how the person she hadn’t spoken to was clearly already dead…

another perplexor is the common perky refrain heard in stores (usually from cute young “sales associates”): “if you need anything, my name is susan!” that always leaves me wondering, if i don’t need anything are you just anonymous?

these verbal non-sequitors have become so common that i was going to watch a night of TV with a pen and paper and jot some down for you, but then i was struck with an important thought: i have been processing language incorrectly all these years. when i thought people were speaking with commas or semicolons, really they were speaking with ellipses…

they are actually having separate and distinct thoughts which are in fact completely unrelated, and i just assumed that they were part of the same deal (and you know what they say about assuming). so it is actually my fault that i think these ideas are part of one continuous stream, when in fact…

not so much…

so the first person was perhaps saying that she and someone else never spoke…

and then she thought about all the other people she never spoke to, and all the experiences she never had, and all the things she wishes she had done with her life, and how life is so short, and how none of knows how much time we have on this earth, which brought her to thoughts of her own mortality…

and then she comes back to consciousness and finishes with… until i found out she passed away…like here i am about to pass away with all of this unfinished business and now this other person goes and passes away too… which would make perfect sense if you were witness to her previous internal dialogue…

and in the store? she is saying what she is trained to say, “…if you need anything…” but then she is overwhelmed by the sense of awesome responsibility that brings. she is contemplating the gravity of that situation. like, does that really mean if you need anything? (this is only a summer job at the gap, for goodness sake…) like what if you need a kidney donated? what if you need her to run into a burning building to rescue 11 kittens who are still blind so they can’t even help her find the exit? and she is afraid of fire (just like frankenstein’s monster!)…what if you need her to chase down a bad guy but she missed kick-boxing class last week because she had to watch the latest episode of the real housewives of bay city, michigan, because the main character was getting a really cool manicure and she had to decide if she and her friends should get the same kind of manicure for their senior prom? what if you ask her for her lunch but all she has is a key lime yogurt and she’s been waiting all day to eat it? what then? so she’s all stressed out and the only thing she can even think to stammer out, kind of like she’s been taken prisoner by some evil enemy, is her name/rank/and serial number. but since she has neither rank nor serial number, she just manages to spit out her name, “…my name is susan…” and then she just about collapses from the mental effort of it all and she tries to sneak out the back door for a cigarette break.

so i think that those of us who critique others’ language have been, perhaps, a bit too quick to judge.

maybe next time we look at someone spouting jibberish, rather than see red, we should see ellipses…