Lost Journal: Columnist Calls for Corrections in Communication

Journal entry: March 13, 2011 (age 41) – Communication

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Said failure prompted Strother Martin to knock Paul Newman into a ditch in the movie Cool Hand Luke. When your first name is Strother, you can’t even introduce yourself without confusing people. Think of the agony his mom would have faced if her son had married Sally Struthers and took her name. She would have been known as Sally and Strother Struthers-Martin’s mother. Getting off topic is another kind of communication failure, so I digress. The point I wanted to make is that our culture needs to agree on a few more social conventions to ease our interactions. In front of this linguistic power vacuum, I’m dropping a few crumby ideas:

  • We all cherish certain hand gestures that we use to communicate to fellow travelers on roads and highways. Can we add one that means, “Hey, your headlights aren’t on?” The meaning of blinking your own lights at opposing traffic has been muddied by its alternate meanings: “There’s a speed trap back there, so slow down,” and “I encourage gang violence, so please target me and my Audi.” Actually, forget the hand gesture. Let’s add a blinking sign to the tops of our cars. In addition to telling people their lights are off, it could be used to tell people that when they tailgate on a road with no passing lane, they are, in fact, making me drive slower. Much, much slower.
  • When a phone, serial, or social security number is being recited over the phone, we all should resist the urge to say “uh-huh” before the number is finished. Otherwise, you end up talking when the other person is reading off the next part of the number. Alternately, the tradition of saying, “stop” could be brought back from the telegraph era. Here’s an example: “My phone number is 1-800. STOP. (Uh-huh.) 555. STOP (Uh-huh.)…” But, wait. Then some people would think they should use the numbers associated with the letters S, T, O, and P on their dial. Back to Plan A – just cut the uh-huhs, people!
  • Zero and the letter O need to be separated once and for all. That line through the middle isn’t used consistently enough, and when the print is small, it makes a zero look like an 8. The letter O sounds like the shape of the letter itself, so we’ll keep that the same. On the other hand, a 0 looks like an empty object, so perhaps we should keep that the same instead. Maybe we can put our standardized test-taking skills to more frequent use by filling in our letter Os. That could be fun, unless your name is Zero Mostel III.
  • Architects and engineers need to figure out a better way to label elevator buttons. Every time you step into an elevator, you panic for a second. “Is the parking lot on M, G, L , or 1?” When two buildings are connected, and one has more basement levels than the other does, things get even screwier. Why don’t we just stop making basements? They just flood, hide bodies, and smell like ape socks anyway.

I feel better now. But I’d feel betterer still if I knew how to tell you how much better I feel.

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