Can these trends be stopped?

2007-12-28 00:00

It is the time for resolutions. Come to think of it, I have seldom, if ever, known anyone, including myself, who has made a resolution and seen it through for the year. My break with convention is to identify some resolutions I wish others would adopt.

Banks are inevitably busy these days and one does well to avoid them as much as possible. However, there are things to be collected from time to time and one expects to be able to pop in, fetch the card or cheque book and come out again quickly. Wishful thinking. There is a person at the inquiries counter at the head of a sizeable queue whose business is complicated. The hard-pressed assistant is trying her best, but is not in command of the situation. Resolution: clients with complex queries should be steered away from the inquiries counter into a cubicle where the matters may be addressed by someone senior enough to solve the problems expeditiously. It would be a useful resolution to locate the copier machine somewhere closer to the people who have to make the copies. And where does the bank store all these thousands of copies that have to be made of ID documents and utility accounts? Will there ever be a reason to look at them?

I resent the demise of the adverb. I thought that it was only South African cricket commentators who used adjectives ubiquitously, thereby revealing that their knowledge of the game far exceeds their ability to speak English properly. Bowlers in all countries “bowl quick” and in other contexts as well adverbs are conspicuous by their absence. What is peculiarly South African, however, is the phrase “superbly well”, a legacy of Hansie Cronjé. This prime example of tautology has come about, I suspect, because of the reluctance to use the adverb in its pure form. Resolution by all who speak in the public domain: restore the adverb to its rightful place. While they are about it, they might suspend the use of “awesome” for a respectable period and remember that “comprise” should not be used with “of”.

Resolution by supermarket cashiers: to attend exclusively to the customer instead of carrying on a conversation with a colleague or acquaintance. And taxi drivers might resolve to stop hanging their right arms out of the window. This is unlikely, however, as this is a means whereby they may convey easily an intention to change lane. While the average motorist chooses a lane appropriate to his or her direction of travel, a taxi driver looks for gaps, weaving from one to the other to gain that slight advantage that will improve the day’s takings. We, in turn, should resolve to be more tolerant of this entrepreneurial, but essentially selfish, spirit.

Among the most interesting characteristics of the modern day is the importance of the cellphone call. Not so long ago (and even now, come to think of it), secretaries were employed to keep telephone callers at bay. Bosses were not always available and there were times that they simply could not be reached. The sky did not fall in. Nowadays, people find it impossible to resist the call of what Zulu-speaking people, I’m told, call “the cricket in the pocket”. Even the most mundane calls have assumed an urgency which brooks no delay. Thus, it is quite common for people to receive calls — and take them — during the course of a meeting, much to the annoyance of others in the gathering. I once attended a meeting where the speaker, just as he greeted the audience, was distracted by his cellphone. Instead of switching it off and apologising to his audience, he stepped away from the podium and took the call. He did not even apologise on the resumption of his speech. Resolution: to treat the cellphone as a modern convenience and not a dictator of behaviour or something from which one cannot be separated.

I am at an age when it is acceptable to be a pedant. And I will not resolve to stop being irritated by these contemporary trends.

• Andrew Layman is a former headmaster and now the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business.

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