He, she, whaa?

Having a short fuse can be handy. If you’re going to lose your temper, it helps to do it as near as possible to whatever it is that gets you angry in the first place. It makes it easier to solve things that way.

I mean, really, what good does it do for me to sit here stewing over a list of perceived minor infractions allegedly committed by CF until a long fuse finally burns down and I erupt over something absurd? Might as well erupt over something reasonable when it happens.

For instance, pronouns.

Me no get the pro of noun. Put too many in a story and lost is me. Or I. Woe me. Whoa.

CF is a pretty good storyteller. She knows how to introduce her cast of characters, set the scene, get the flow going. We’ve been swapping tales for years, work stories, childhood stories, you-won’t-believe-this stories, you’ve-told-me-that-four-times-before stories, no-wait-let-me-finish stories, and so forth.

We are such compulsive story tellers that we even have a rule to stop ourselves when the other needs a break: The Three Time Rule. Just hold up three fingers to invoke it, and the other person must stop. We inaugurated it to stop ourselves from reading all the good stuff in the newspaper to each other, but now we use it whenever one of us starts to get carried away on anything the other wants to savor herself.

So. Pronouns.

When CF comes home from work, I usually stop what I am doing (which this week is frantically writing obituaries for my college magazine) and we decompress for a few minutes in the comfy chairs, and she gives me a rundown of her day.

Her particular field of work happens to employ mostly women, and everyone in her department happens to be female, except for the head of the department. Therefore, almost all of her pronouns are female. This has been true for many years. It has never presented a problem to me when she recounts stories.

Last night, however, the fuse blew.

“Pronouns!” I shouted at her. She was a bit startled, I think. I was more than a bit confused.

There weren’t that many people in her story, but I had no idea who was who or who was where or what was going on when or why. Somebody was something somewhere was all I knew. I needed a proper noun and I needed it now. Either that or I needed little dolls to act it all out.

Screaming “Pronouns!” at someone isn’t much help, I know, because it implies that you want more pronouns, when the opposite is actually the case, but it was all my brain could muster at that point, since it was all my brain could focus on. The pronouns were dripping off every inch of gray matter left inside my skull (and believe me, I don’t think there’s much there), clogging up any hope I had of making sense of anything.

How old are children when they figure out pronouns? “Bobby want milk!” “Bobby, can you say, ‘I want milk’?” “Mommy want milk?” “No, Bobby, you want milk.” “Bobby want milk!”

Clearly I am not going to get the people around me to salt their conversation with proper nouns rather than pronouns. I’ll just have to get good at guessing what’s going on, or asking CF later, or interrupting by saying, “You mean Gertrude?” or whatever is appropriate.

I suppose there is some sort of parallel between pronouns and computer programming, in that pronouns are indirect references and programming involves indirect references. So perhaps it makes sense that pronouns are another area of my brain that fell into the black hole of brain damage.

Speaking of black holes, I dared to approach the programming black hole the other day. Those obituaries I’m writing came with a CD full of short profiles from the college, 125 of them, but they weren’t ordered in a way that made sense to me. I wanted them ordered in chronological order by year of graduation, since that’s the order they will appear in the magazine. Instead, they were ordered on the CD by first name, with the class year tacked on the end.

Not to bore you to tears, but this is what typical entries looked like:

Grover Cleveland ‘48
Thomas Jefferson ‘36
Zachary Taylor ‘52

And this is what I wanted them to look like:

36 Thomas Jefferson
48 Grover Cleveland
52 Zachary Taylor

Any decent programmer would be able to whip up a few lines of code to take care of that in a few minutes. Since I am no longer a decent programmer, I stared at the directory listing for, oh, 10 minutes or so, muttering dark and unprintable things.

I no longer have any of my whiz-bang programming tools on my computer, which is just as well, since I could probably cause grave danger if I did. But I do have Microsoft Word, which has a programming language in it, something that most of its users try to avoid, because it is incredibly poorly documented and stupidly put together. It has annoyed me from the first day I was forced to use it for something because you have to practically offer burnt offerings to Redmond, home of Microsoft, just to get it to select a block of text.

Word’s programming language is this uneasy amalgam of super-duper power-mongering world-conquering giant programming concepts and diddly-squat rinky-dink move-the-cursor-one-letter-to-the-right word processing commands. Definitely schizophrenic. Programming it goes like this:

CHANGE THE WORLD now scratch your nose.

What possessed me to think that I could manipulate the names of these little files in Word’s programming language is beyond me, but before I knew it, there I was, indirectly referencing Grover Cleveland like he’s never been indirectly referenced before. In fact, I indirectly referenced him so indirectly that it is clear he will not be back in time to serve his second term.

This in fact explains why he is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms as president. He was caught in a bad programming loop.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to give up the task before ruining the entire chain of presidents. I found a perfectly serviceable third party utility that did the job of renaming for me in just a few seconds. It handles all kinds of nifty things you might need to do with file names.

I’m considering writing to them to see if they can add a pronoun option.






2 thoughts on “He, she, whaa?

  1. I wouldn’t even have known what to search for to solve that problem. What’s more, I really had to struggle to remember what a pronoun was. Why do they call it that? If the other choice is a personal pronoun (is that right?) then why can’t it be called an impersonal pronoun? Then at least I’d have a clue.

  2. What I don’t understand is why there are no connouns. Or antinouns. What’s so pro about pronouns? Are there amateur nouns? Do nouns have to work their way up through the minor leagues before they get their own pronouns? This really deserves to be examined.

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