Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The imperfect use of perfect

I’m not in the food service or customer service business so I never got this memo, but who decreed that every waiter, hotel desk clerk, and department store salesman respond to everything you say with “Perfect!”? I find it annoying and not the least bit condescending.

The dictionary on my computer (so it must be the ultimate authority) defines “perfect” as “without errors, flaws, or faults”, “excellent or ideal in every way.” So does that really apply when I want another spoon?

I was with a friend recently and he ordered a salad with the dressing on the side. The waitress chirped, “Perfect!” I ordered the same salad but with the dressing mixed in. Again, she said, “Perfect!” So which is it, bitch? They can’t both be perfect! I can’t tell you how many restaurants I’ve been thrown out of lately.

Is it that we as a society so desperately need affirmation and acceptance? My boss may hate me and my girlfriend thinks I’m a wimp but Goddamn it, the waitress at Hardee’s is in awe of my decision-making ability.

The British use the word “brilliant” to describe any action that’s not retarded. When a kid on AMERICAN IDOL recently sang an acoustic version of an inane Paula Abdul pop ditty judge Kara called it “Genius!” That word used to be reserved for Nobel Prize winners, now it applies to reality show contestants.

And don’t think my generation isn’t guilty of this practice too. The Supremes weren’t.

I know this sounds like a plug for my now defunct television series, but please, can we dial down the platitudes? Can we show a little perspective? When we order egg whites, or pay for that with a credit card, or need another minute to look over the menus, can you just say, “Almost perfect!”??

35 comments:

Papageiena said...

I'd like to see "very good, sir" come back.

Mary Wallace said...

At the risk of gaining your ire....Perfect!

Gregory said...

I've never, ever heard 'perfect' used in this way.

Tom said...

Fucking-A.

Jeff said...

A word that I'm tired of hearing is "surreal." Why is almost everybody who is interviewed describing their experience as "surreal" these days?

Another is "journey." Maybe I watch too much reality TV. Journey. Everything's a journey. A surreal journey!

Mike said...

I enjoy it when Ken mentions Almost Perfect. Because then I am reminded of Nancy Travis.

And I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Nancy, just in case she's out there, for choosing acting as a career. Very talented. Very funny.

And a special shout out to Jonathan Demme for casting her in Married to the Mob.

Perfect.

Tim W. said...

I'd like the words `perfect' and `brilliant' to be reserved for my wife to use after lovemaking. Actually, I'd even like the word `okay' to be used once in a while by her after lovemaking. It's surely better than the phrase "Well, I didn't marry you for the sex, did I
?".

Dick Cheney said...

Another word that is overused is "literally". As in, I just peed in my pants...literally.

Eve said...

Yeah, "literally" drives me crazy, literally. But to be perfectly honest, when the waitress tells me my order is perfect, I feel absurdly proud.

Dimension Skipper said...

I'd second "surreal" and "literally" (though only when used incorrectly), but my own personal annoying word of reaction is "Awesome!" Really? I've always reserved the word "awesome" for events like volcanic eruptions, nuclear blasts, meeting the Creator of the Universe and finally having all your big life questions answered in an instant, those sorts of things. So if you really think that side of fries is awesome, I'd like to suggest that maybe you simply have an extremely low threshold of awesomeness.

Coincidentally on the subject of platitudes ("can we dial down the platitudes?") and definitions... here's today's Frazz comic.

Pete Darby said...

What I'm always afraid they'll say when I order in a classy restaurant*:

"Sir, I find your dining choices adequate."

"You have chosen... wisely."

"Really? Well, it's your arteries, I guess."

"*pffft!*... Sorry! Sorry, let me just... BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! HEY, EVERYONE, LOOK WHAT THIS SCHMUCK ORDERED!"

*"Classy" being, in this case, anywhere they don't ask if you want to "go large".

Anonymous said...

This is a very american thing.
After getting used to Europe, it is really jarring to come back to the US. More than "perfect", I hear "Fantastic" all the time. "Oh, that's fantastic!!" (can actually hear the explamation points). Everything is. So nothing is really. I keep wondering how the children who actually DO have a talent in something decipher that and get encouragement. Little Timmy draws something that is not very good, "oh, that's fantastic. Amazing, you really are a genius" and then shows REAL talent playing a guitar and gets the same response.

Seems to happen with grown-ups too.
I link it closely with the constant search for "the BEST"...
whether it is for food, goods, whatever, people spend incredible amounts of time trying to find out what is really the best. Seems like the two things would be exclusive...since you just told little Timmy his drawing (which was clearly subpar) was "the best" and yet, you can then spend countless hours researching to find the BEST new cell phone..

Anonymous said...

Which reminds me... to me if I had to choose one of the funniest exchanges in film history, it would have to be W.C. Fields in "The Bank Dick" talking to his future son-in-law Og. After talking Og into embezling funds at the bank he works at to invest in the dubious "Beefsteak Mines", and Og finding out the bank examiner had come to town. He says
"Oh...I feel like a perfect idiot for having listened to you."

Fields: "Now you listen to me Og. Nothing in this WORLD is perfect!"

gih said...

All are perfect if all use it perfectly.

carol said...

I think you might like this article: 2010 List of Banished Words.

While we're on the subject - I cannot stand it when people say 'pre' incorrectly. pre-boarding, pre-heating, pre-owned...pre means 'before' not 'already'. So pre heat means not hot, and pre-owned means used.

carol said...

Ug. And by 'used' I meant 'new'. Haven't had enough coffee yet.

Sebastian said...

Maybe there was a better way to write about this with hinting at your upcoming book.

I guess when you were in your twenties and others in their fifties they reacted the same way towards the way you talked.

But don't worry. Over here people tend to mix up the german words for "than" and "as" in comparisons and it is driving me nuts. I honest to god feel the need to choke people when they do that...

Alan Coil said...

Best. Column. Ever.

;)

Barry in Portland said...

My cringe reflex is always triggered by 'to die for'.

Really? A piece of damn cheesecake?

Ian said...

It's, like, just the way people talk these days, Ken. No biggie. I'm sure with a little thought we could all come up with a dozen common expressions that are equally irksome. Other readers have already pointed out two much bigger offenders, "literally" and "awesome." Personally, I have a problem with "gaming" as a euphemism for "gambling." Puh-leeze.

Chas Cunningham said...

I nominate "spot on" as more obnoxious than "perfect."

Tom Quigley said...

Dimension Skipper said...

..."but my own personal annoying word of reaction is "Awesome!"...

Agreed... If you play the guitar as I do, try going shopping at any Guitar Center located across the country... I think that word is part of their sales clerks' training program... Every time I go into one of them, regardless of whether I'm looking at a $4000 Martin, a beat-to-shit used Washburn, or a $5 packet of strings, every third word out of their mouths describing the item is "Awesome!"

A couple other phrases I try to deal with so as not to let myself become annoyed:

"VERY cool!" -- If something isn't very cool, is it not very cool, less cool or just "cool"?

"Way" -- used as a prefix for other adjectives or activities, like "Way cool," "Way awesome," or "We're way not seeing each other anymore..."

Huh?...

I guess for me the ultimate annoyance would be to hear someone utter the phrase "Way totally awesome"... I can already feel my teeth starting to clench...

emily said...

But wait, there's more. Now problems are gone and we have "issues" and "challenges." No problem? No "frickin" problem. But then again, at the end of the day, it's "my bad." But I'm not "going there." Just sayin'... Going forward, not so much. Year-over-year, just try to give 110 percent. It's, like, you know...whatever.

Emily Blake said...

I don't care for the term "unprecedented" because pretty much every time it's used, it is in fact completed precedented.

Captain Bondage Goth said...

Wait, did you really just call someone a bitch because of the way she took your order? I realize this was hyperbole but that's really unnecessary.

Bob said...

I agree that "awesome" is much worse than "perfect". I'm tired of "shenanigans", too.

KEN LEVINE said...

Captain Bondage,

You don't realize this is a humor blog and I'm joking? If you really thought I was serious this is not the blog for you.

Mark said...

Wait -- they have waitresses at Hardee's where you are?

Mr. Snrub said...

When did 'yes' get replaced by 'absolutely'?

"can I have another napkin?"

"Absolutely..."

Trust me. Just start listening for that one (waiters love this one..and salespeople). It's such a phony attempt at making things seem more important than they really are. VERY similar to 'perfect', in that regard.

Super terrific, Mr. Levine.

Junior Durkin said...

http://sepinwall.blogspot.com/2010/03/david-mills-rip.html

Off topic... I learned from Thembi Ford's site of David Mills' death. I didn't know him, but tremendously admired his writing on NYPD, the Wire & ER. Will look forward to seeing the New Orleans project he just completed.

John E Williams said...

Ken, I don't know how well you know Ann Magnuson, but she has been locked out of her Facebook account for posting a photo of a remake she did of an old Roxy Music album cover (the one with the bare-breasted models with their hands over their bare breasts). There's an FB group trying to get her reinstated, in case you are interested.

http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?v=info&gid=112882908730083

Melanie said...

I'm wondering if the "perfect" problem is local, because I don't recall running into it where I live.

I agree with the loathing for "absolutely" instead of yes, though; that has been bothering me for years now.

And I'm SICK AND TIRED of celebrities to whom everthing is "amazing". Ugh.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Thank you, Mr. Snrub, for mentioning "absolutely" being used in lieu of "yes." I've been saying this for years and each time I do people looked at me as though I claimed to like shit sandwiches.
Another overused word these days is "amazing." A restaurant add heralds their amazing salad. Fashion mavens talk about amazing shoes. Are we so primitive we are amazed by a salad or pair of shoes? Gibe me a break.

Mary Stella said...

On a recent cruise, all of our wait staff responded to every request with, "Of course."

Some friends/co-workers and I take our dogs to the same training class. Now we've all picked up the trainer's habit of reinforcing really good dog behavior with, "Excellent!" Now when I hear waiters or anyone else say it, I look around for a dog and liver treats.

Janet T said...

I vow from here on to limit my usage of the word “cool”, even though I really like it.

Are you really taking on the restaurant wait staff without mentioning the trend of “hi my name is Sally, and I’ll be your server tonight”, prompting me to state “hi Sally I’m Janet, this is my husband Jim and these are our children x and z.”?
Honestly, just get my order right and get my check to the table without my having to ask for it, and I won’t care about your name, you’ll only care about my 20 percent (or more) tip.

The word I hate most right now is random as in… “That was so random“ an expression used for everything from a change in the weather to a nuclear explosion to someone wearing mismatched socks.
And I truly despise people who are not British using the phrase “Cheers!” to end all correspondence