Monday, June 2, 2014

Of course! Of course! Of course!

Granted, I am more sensitive than many to language -- I mean, spend most days immersed in it, whether writing, teaching or reading. As a result, I often see things that seem not to be a big deal to others and then proceed to make a big deal out of them. This one is brand new and I am not sure if it has gotten out of New Jersey yet...

In my area, I have noticed that waitresses and waiters have become addicted to the phrase,"Of course." The other night, for instance, we went to kind of an upscale burger joint for dinner. It is in the town where I grew up; a town that has developed an inflated sense of its own importance as time has gone on -- so much so that they offer valet parking at what used to be a simple shopping mall with bike racks outside.

I kid you not with the following dialogue -- it is no exaggeration.

We walked in and found the counter (you order and then you sit down and they bring your food).

We picked up the menus. My wife, Karen, started the process:

KAREN: Hi -- we just need a minute to look over the menu.

CASHIER: (late teens, blond, permanently-hoisted dark eyebrows) Of course!

ME: Okay -- I think we are ready.

CASHIER: Okay. What can I get you?

KAREN: I'll have the blackbean burger.

CASHIER: Of course. Would you like a drink?

KAREN: I'll have a Blue Moon, please.

CASHIER: Of course.

ME: I'll have the Buffalo chicken sandwich.

CASHIER: Of course. Something to drink?

ME: Um...I will try the Wild Viking stout.

CASHIER: Of course.

SON#1: Can I have a cheeseburger?

CASHIER: Of course. Drink?

SON#1: Do you have lemonade?

CASHIER: Of course.

SON#2: I'll have the bacon cheeseburger please.

CASHIER: Of course. What would you like to drink?

SON#2: Lemonade, please.

CASHIER: Of course.

KAREN: Can we also have an order of cheese fries?

CASHIER: Of course. Your total is $5,000 [okay -- I exaggerated a bit, but it wasn't cheap].

We paid.

CASHIER: Thank you. Here is your number card. You can put this in the stand on the table and they will bring your order over to you.

ME: Thanks.

CASHIER: Of course.

The truth is that this only happened to me once before -- in a restaurant in the same shopping center. The waitress was not quite as bad as the cashier above. But it strikes me that, first of all, the repetition is just stupid and it's annoyingly affected. Also, the phrase becomes quite condescending with repetition. After the fifth time starts to morph into:

"What -- are you a moron? This is how it works. You order and I get it for you. Of course you can have a cheeseburger. What did you think was going to happen at a burger restaurant? -- I was going to say, 'No, you can't have one'? My God, I can't wait to graduate college so I can move onto a job worthy of my superiority to everyone else."

(Too much? Hey -- it's my blog, gal-dernit.)

It loses its respectful air after the twenty-seventh time. It sheds the deferential the tone it would take if it were a butler responding to a request by his employer: "But, of course, Mr. Wegenthorpe..." (Anything you ask -- you need only say the words...)

It's cold, pretentious and detached when uttered time and again by a waiter or waitres -- of a certain age, especially. Even the elder and wise must use the phrase carefully; it can so quickly shift between respect, criticism and outright ridicule.

Blech. Hopefully, it will remain contained in South Jersey and then fade away... Let me know if this budding linguistic trend trots into your neck of the woods.


  1. Were you at a chain? It's not outside the realm of possibility that some large chain restaurants and bars are actually training their waitstaff to stick to certain acceptable pat responses and eschew others, based on bizarre criteria known only by certain enlightened souls at the home office.

    (When I did telephone market research in the '80s, we were allowed to say "I see," "I understand," "certainly," and "all right," but never "okay." Our overlords felt that "okay" connoted agreement, while the others were perfectly neutral! I never quite grokked that, but as policy, it was fiercely enforced.)

    1. Jeff -- I think I can confirm that this is true. Someone on Facebook said she was at the same restaurant and had a young man do the same thing. I think this might actually be the case. One of my other friends mentioned, as circumstantial proof, the idea the the kids at Chick-Fil-A say "my pleasure." God, I am glad I have avoided the world of "home offices" and corporate scripting. District offices can be bad, but...jeeze.