Conan the Grammarian

by A.J. Mittendorf from Nanaimo, BC

I taught high school and college English for a total of 25 years, and, while I always liked to have fun in my classes, I was a stickler for proper grammar. It earned me the nickname "Conan the Grammarian”.

Life, in its infinite forces of whimsy, however, made it necessary for me recently to accept a lay-off from my lucrative and prestigious position as a college English instructor and so I began a more public job as a sales associate at Sears. I had been working there for less than a year when I noticed a trend in the speech patterns of Sears' clientele. It prompted my inner Conan to reemerge: redundancies.

They are common in the works of first- and second-year college writers and that's why I am so skilled in hearing them. Examples I gleaned from my students include things like, "I thought in my head." Now, tell me, Stuart, where can people do their thinking other than in their heads? Or how about, "I thought to myself." It's fair enough for people to talk to themselves, but is there someone a person can think to other than "himself" or "herself"?

The redundancies that I hear from Sears' customers are more subtle. People don't ask for "shoes for their feet;" but they do request things like, "ladies' dresses" or "men's athletic supports". As the gregarious grammarian that I am, I began meekly pointing out these redundancies if only to help customers smile as they shopped. When someone asked me for "outdoor umbrellas," I lightheartedly responded, "They're next to the indoor umbrellas." Or, when they asked for "ladies' bras," I cheerfully said, "They're beside men's bras". For "bathroom toiletries," I indicated "kitchen toiletries." For "kitchen stoves," "living-room stoves." And on and on and on. I tell you, Stuart, there was no need to hunt for material. Alas, I responded more and more quickly with each opportunity.
This went on for about a week, with a modicum of success, I might add. Customers would either laugh or they'd respond with a sense of awe: "I never thought of it like that" they’d say.

It ended abruptly, however, one evening when, just before closing, a group of young women--obviously expectant mothers--asked me, "Where are the children's toys?"

I know what you’re thinking, Stuart. You're thinking:

"Please tell me you didn't!" 

Sadly…I did. Before I understood what I was saying, I had already said it: "Right next to the adult toys."

Fortunately, as I blushed and covered my face with both hands, the ladies laughed uproariously. My inner Conan the Grammarian hasn't shown his face at Sears since.