Mrs. Knox, my high school English teacher, must be tossing and turning in her grave. Have you ever really listened to some of the phrases used in public speaking? There were only a few things she was really adamant about. A student could get an F on a paper, for instance, for using the phrase “a lot of” instead of something more specific, like “many” or “4,278,522.”

I was pretty sure that 4,278,522 of something was a lot of whatever it was, but she didn’t see it that way. The next few phrases must have her really upset.

“Terrible tragedy” ranks up there with my all-time favorites. The only tragedies that ever make it to the evening news are the terrible ones. We could use a few happy tragedies. I don’t know what they would be, but …

I can see why there wouldn’t be any dreadful tragedies. Something that’s full of dread hasn’t happened yet, and the evening news doesn’t report on tragedies that have not yet occurred. There are some other adjectives that could be used to describe tragedies, but the TV news folks probably don’t want to scare us.

“Changed the course of history forever” is another good one. What I want to know is how to change the course of history even temporarily. History is what already happened. In correcting an error in this sentence, I didn’t change history, merely recorded another action for the books. As Roy Clark once said, “You can’t do it again. You can do something similar, but you can’t do it again, and you can’t change it once it’s laid down.”

“We possibly may have had a (fill in the blank).” Now, this one is really beautiful, and appropriate for the time. I call it The Politician’s Waffle; it doesn’t even commit to not committing. To say “we may have had” means might be we did, and might be we didn’t; the speaker clearly doesn’t know. But to say “we possibly may have had” takes a really skilled verbal gymnast. He (or she) doesn’t know whether we might or might not have had, but it’s possible.

“I would ask/hope/think …” My daughter used to hate me for this one. Every time she’d use the phrase, I’d ask her under what circumstances she would, for instance, hope that I would allow her to drive the family car.

Of course, had she said, “I’m asking for the car,” I’d have had to say Yes or No. But since she never got around to asking, having stated only that she would, I completely escaped making an unpopular decision.

She’s a teacher now, and enthusiastically looking for revenge. Watch out for your kids.

“Have a nice day.” I saved this one for last because I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, a lot of people simply say it out of habit. “Have a nice day.” “You, too.” “Thanks.” The last customer was a real  (expletive deleted), your bills are past due, and gasoline prices went up just before you pulled in. You get in the car and head off to your “nice” rainy day and get stopped for speeding by a minion of the law whose parting words are …

“Have a nice day.”

On the other hand, I can fairly safely retrospectively say any day I’m having is a nice day, especially given the alternative.

Although the cop could have helped by not being quite so obviously pleased with handing over that fast driving award. I didn’t know the car would go that fast — information I’d have as soon done without.

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