Sunday, November 18, 2007

It’s no problem, between you to me

Language changes with the times. We all know that. Sometimes it’s even for the better. There are a few cases, however, that are so irritating they make my teeth hurt. Even the crowns.

These days if you go to almost any store and say “thank you” to a clerk under the age of 30, the odds are very good indeed that the person will respond with a two-word phrase. That’s OK, because in English the standard response to “thank you” already is a two-word phrase. You know it; you grew up with it. It’s one of the hallmarks of polite conversation. Someone says “thank you”; you respond with “you’re welcome.” Neat. Tidy. Standard.

But the two words you’ll hear now are “no problem.”

Is that a problem? You bet. Here’s why: It implies that I just got you to do something that could have been a problem. Handing over my change is simply doing your job.

The same applies to something like holding a door open for two extra seconds to accommodate my passage. To be courteous, I’d normally say “thank you.” Now I cringe, knowing I’m likely to get a “no problem.”

No problem? Well thank heavens. I don’t even know you; I certainly don’t mean to cause trouble.

Unfortunately, this is not simply an American or an age issue. It may have started with young Americans, but it is becoming a phrase to dread from people of all ages. It’s not grammatically incorrect, but it’s irritating.

The next peeve, however, is as wrong as it is off-putting.

It’s a little more difficult to describe, but it is SO wrong that you’ll want to think about it just for your own protection. Even well known journalists – people actually paid to write for a living – make this mistake … but you can avoid it with a moment’s thought.

“The prices of the sweaters range between $10 to $50,” she said. And boy howdy was she ever wrong. The prices might have been accurate, but that “between … to” is definitely wrong.

Think about it. Would you ever say “Let’s just keep this between you to me”? Of course not. You would never say that Burlington is located “between Greensboro to Durham.”

What you want – and you always want it – is to use “and” instead of “to.” That is, things are between A and B, between you and me, between $10 and $50.

It must be the numbers that throw some people off. We’re used to saying that the store is 10 to 15 minutes away, or that we need to diet to lose 15 to 20 pounds. But “between” changes everything.

Just keep in mind that you would never say, “Something happened between here to there.” Instead, and naturally, you’d say, “Something happened between here and there.”

Or you can always remember the usage mentioned above: “This is just between you and me.”

Let me end by pointing out two massively unnecessary repetitions. Maybe the most interesting thing about these two examples is how widespread their usage is. Ready? PIN number and ATM machine.

Here’s betting that you have used at least one of those at least once.

You might not even know that ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine. It does, though. That means that saying “ATM machine” is the same as saying “Automated Teller Machine machine.”

Sometimes we want to repeat things to drive home a point, but “machine machine”? I’d guess not.

Now let’s look at the ole PIN number. I bet you do know that PIN stands for Personal Identification Number. So you see, saying “PIN number” is the same as saying “Personal Identification Number number.”

What’s really fun is lumping those redundancies together — “I’m going to the Automated Teller Machine machine to try out my new Personal Identification Number number.”

Does that help? Don’t thank me. It’s no problem.


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