I Got You Babe by
(34 Stories)

Prompted By Pet Peeves

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I have given up on that one.  I will still remark from time to time that Sonny should have said “I have you, babe” but I will not win that one.  Years ago, I would point out to the engineers who worked under me that instead of saying “I’ve got…whatever” it was more correct to say, “I have…whatever.”  Fewer words, as well as more grammatically correct – the past participle should be “gotten” if that is really what they intend to say.  But when those engineers pointed out to me that I was becoming irksome, I gave it up.

In general, I’m happy to be on this side of the grass, to read the paper in the morning and see that my obituary is not printed there.

A few other grammatical peeves: When I hear “I” used when the correct objective form is “me”, I do the correction in my mind, but don’t correct it out loud.  June and I both yell out “fewer than” when someone on TV uses “less than” in referring to countable items.  I cringe when I hear Rachel Maddow pronounce the second month of the year as “Feb-yoo-ary”, but I love everything else she does, so she can be forgiven.

The one grammatical error that I just cannot abide, however, is when students describe something that has happened with the construction “Me and …”, as in “Me and Julie went to the mall yesterday.”  I stop them as soon as they say it and make them correct it out loud.

And from time to time, I will ask a student if he or she can repeat the statement they just made without using the word “like” incorrectly even once.  They are usually incapable of doing so, to the amusement of their classmates.  “And so he was like… and then she was like…” instead of “He said…and then she said…”  There was a history teacher at Columbus School for Girls, a former Green Beret, who had three daughters in the school.  He would fine them a dollar every time they used the word “like” inappropriately.  They quickly stopped doing that, at least in his presence.

But my biggest pet peeve is not a grammatical one.  I hate being interrupted.  Early in my career, during a month-long management development program, I delivered a short talk while being videotaped.  I was horrified at how many times I punctuated my talk with vocal pauses.  The second time I gave that presentation, I had practiced it without the vocal pauses, and my performance was greatly improved.  Over the years, I became a frequent public speaker.

To this day, I try to think about what I am saying before the words start pouring out of my mouth.  Sometimes, that causes me to hesitate for a second or two as I find a way to avoid a vocal pause, or a “you know” or a similar “place-holding” mannerism.  Far too often, however, that causes the person to whom I am speaking to assume that I need help finishing my sentence, or to believe that I am finished with my thought.  My lovely wife does this often enough that I now just end my remark at the point at which she interrupted.  I just stop talking.  Only when she realizes what she has done and asks me to go on will I continue with my thought.

I’m getting old enough now to recognize that there are more things in life to treasure than there are to get upset about.  In general, I’m happy to be on this side of the grass, to read the paper in the morning and see that my obituary is not printed there.

Profile photo of Jeff Gerken Jeff Gerken

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. As always your stories are fun to read Jeff, and I agree there are more important things to fret about in this sorry world than bad word usage..

    I try to remember to ask myself the following question before I speak – is it more important to correct someone’s’ grammar or to keep my friends?

  2. Suzy says:

    Funny, I never thought about that Sonny & Cher song as being grammatically incorrect. But I’m not going to add it to my list of peeves now, I have too many already. (Or should I say I got too many? 🙂 ) I agree about fewer and less, which I think is also a lost cause. And isn’t everyone annoyed by being interrupted? Did you find that once you worked on eliminating your pauses, you were interrupted less? Obama is a big one for pauses in his speech – my nephew does a hilarious impression of him which brought that to my attention. I wonder how much he gets interrupted.

  3. Marian says:

    Interesting about the vocal pauses, Jeff. My partner speaks with very long pauses between “sentences,” so often I am guilty of the the same interruptions as your wife. I try to either wait on a count to three, or even ask him, “Are you finished with your thought?” It’s oddly reassuring that others have the same problem.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    While having a video chat with our children across eight time zones just now, my husband scolded me for interrupting him (we both tried to tell the same story about having difficulties logging in). It seems to be a universal complaint, Jeff. He never notices when he interrupts me, however. Funny the way that works.

    The “like” added as a place holder also drives me nuts.

  5. You know, Jeff, I’m feeling like we boomers here at Retrospect might officially give popular music our blessing when it comes to grammar. “I Feel Well” just doesn’t have the punch of “I Feel Good,” and “I can’t get any satisfaction” sounds pretty lame.

    I, too, yell out loud when yet another talking head uses “less than” instead of “fewer than” — but maybe if they put it to music I’ll give them a pass.

    As for February, well, nuclear, jewelry, realtor…need I say more?


  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I find the part about vocal pauses and placeholders especially interesting. President Obama did this quite often as you could see him searching his mind for the best wording or phrase. Maybe you were on the right track. Take a beat or two to think about what you are going to say next. Ir would probably serve all of us well.

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      The point is to not sprinkle “um” in throughout your conversation. If you listen closely to someone speaking, and think about how many times they employ that vocal pause, and then compare that to someone else who does not say “um” every time they need to stop and think about what they are going to say, you will find that you enjoy listening to the second person a lot more than the first.

      Of course, no one was going to interrupt the president when he stopped to think, partly because you knew that he was actually thinking. His successor would simply repeat what he had said in the previous few seconds, because he was not thinking at all, he was just spilling words out.

  7. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Jeff, and clearly we Retro-ists have grammar errors high on our list of pet peeves. Given our common literary bent, this is hardly surprising, and I certainly agree with the ones you point out.

    But also thanks for putting this all in perspective so well — that’s why these things should be “peeves” and not, literally, “life or death.” (Side note: I hate speakers using “literally” solely for emphasis, not realizing its true meaning.)

    And your main pet peeve really struck a nerve with me since I have a tendency to interrupt others. I try not to do it, but it is often a struggle of self-control on my part, especially when I am talking with someone who is meandering around an obvious point (clearly not you). So — to use my own pet peeve, but correctly — thanks for reminding me that this can be very annoying.

  8. I can identify with that pause (for thought, or in my case, from being a Midwesterner) that becomes someone else’s (from the Northeast, usually) reason for jumping in as if I were finished! Good for you for stubbornly waiting to be asked to continue. But I gave up on that.

  9. All directly on point, Jeff. But I would hate to hear Paul Simon singing about Julio and I down by the schoolyard. Perhaps an exception there. Funny how reading the posts this week reminds me that I have a larger task in shooing out any and all pet peeves. John addressed “so”. Only so-and-sos repeatedly begin statements that way. But to my knowledge no one has mentioned my number one skin crawler:
    “He goes . …, so I go, etc. ad infinitum et nauseam.

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