Verbal Shorthand

Verbal Shorthand

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I don’t know why it is, but people who have been married for a long time tend to cut corners when it comes to spoken language. In fact, if it weren’t for pronouns, I don’t think many of us could communicate at all. A single word may convey several meanings, thoughts or requests, but somehow each partner knows exactly what the other is saying at any given time.

My wife and I are guilty of using such verbal shorthand. For example, the other evening I asked her if she would please hand me the thing. She knew immediately that I wanted the TV remote.

If she asks me to turn it down, I know she means the TV, if it’s on. Otherwise, she’s talking about the thermostat. See what I mean? "It" covers many bases. My wife may say, "Please put it back together when you are through." I understand she is referring to the newspaper.

"It’s about time for it to come," I might proclaim. This could mean the mail, the paper, the bus, or the cab we called, depending upon the time and context. While in the laundry room, she might remark, "We’ve got to get a new one before long." "Yes," I reply. "It’s given us many years of service." We both mean the washing machine. If she calls from the laundry room and inquires, "Is it on yet?" she means, Are the commercials over and is the program starting?

She may say: "You would think he would be cold out there without a coat." If she is looking out our north window, I know she means Harry next door. If the south window, it’s neighbor Bob. But when she asks, "Has he been out yet?" she means Earl, our dog.

When I exclaim, "I’ve had it for now!" my wife knows that I’m frustrated with whatever project I’ve been working on and am ready for a nap. When she says, "You’d better do something for that," I know that she has heard me sneeze. When she’s in another room and admonishes, "That will spoil your appetite," she’s heard the rustle of my candy-bar wrapper.

If I head toward the garage, she may say, "Don’t forget to fill it up." She means the car. But if I’m in the backyard and she says the same thing, I know she means the birdbath. When she says, "I think you can do better than that," I have either just finished mowing the lawn, trimming the hedge or (in winter) shoveling the sidewalk and driveway.

When my wife proffered a box of assorted chocolates the other evening and asked which I preferred, I said, "The one in the corner." I got the one I wanted. I didn’t have to say, "the chocolate, nougat and caramel-covered macadamia nut cluster." She knew.

And so it goes. Somehow we manage to subsist on this sparse diet of words. Tonight, after the dinner dishes had been washed, dried and put back in the cabinets, she asked sweetly if I would carry out the garbage. I was a bit taken aback. The first noun today, and it’s garbage.

by George Beiswinger

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