Written by Katie May
When my son pretends to be a hero, he plays it safe: Spiderman is his No. 1 choice, with Buzz Lightyear—or any astronaut—a frequent backup.
The day I reluctantly assumed a secret identity, I didn’t become anyone quite so cool. I am Super But Mom.
It started out as a simple matter of survival. Trapped in the car for way too long on a rainy, traffic-filled night, the kids had gone past whiney and were deep in despair. They wanted to be home, and so did I. They didn’t understand the concept of traffic, let alone my need to finish essential errands, and they were unimpressed with my efforts to cheer them up. “But, Mom,” they whined in response to everything I lobbed at them. “But Mom!” They weren’t having any of it.
Like any superheroic identity, mine fell upon me by chance, not choice. Super But Mom was born of danger and desperation—the danger being that I might give in to the despair filling our minivan like the odor leaking from a long-forgotten sippy cup full of milk. All I knew was that one more “But, Mom” might push me over the brink. In a flash of inspiration, I took our bad situation and turned it silly. “Super BUT Mom!” I cried in a melodic singsong.
It worked. The car filled with giggles that vanquished the whines.
In retrospect, I might say that it worked just a little too well. Although that night is now years behind me, my secret identity has proven hard to shake. It might be easier if I hadn’t picked up a full posse over the years: My children are known in certain circles as the Wiper, Flush and my favorite, the Whiney Hiney. Their father didn’t escape the fun either. When a car ride drags on too long, he might be the first one to drag out the old joke. Everyone pretends that his identity, S.B.D., stands for Super But Dad, but we all giggle thinking about the silent but deadly malodorous eruptions those initials signify to vulgar minds.
You might never be so lucky—or so desperate—as to find your inner superhero. But I’d be willing to bet that you often display seemingly superhuman patience and forbearance as you tolerate others’ verbal tics and annoying language habits.
For my friend Rachel, the word “so” is the trigger. All the television chefs, she says, overuse that word when they describe their food creations: “So what I’ve made for you is …” “So what we have here …” It’s surprising how a two-letter word, repeated too often, can grate on your nerves.
Happily, Rachel is free to react to her pet peeve. She can roll her eyes or yell at the TV if a chef’s so-so-so-ing annoys her. For the rest of us, when the annoyance stems from something a boss, co-worker or customer says, we cannot react quite the same.
It might be a pop-culture word like “epic” that you hear far too often from a younger colleague. It might be the buzzword of the week that your boss uses too frequently. It might be the umms and uhs that the customer on the other end of the line offers while searching for the information needed to place an order.
A superhero can fix the world. Unless your workplace dress code allows capes and masks, you’ll probably have to learn to tolerate those annoying habits. In the meantime, do your part by learning to recognize—and avoid—those tics in your own speech.
Save the world? No, probably not. But you will make the world a better place, one conversation at a time.
Saving the world is a big job—one best left to the true superheroes. But anyone can save a word. Visit Save the Words, a website created by word lovers and dedicated to highlighting obscure words that have slipped out of common usage. The site’s creators claim that “90% of what we write is communicated by only 7,000 words,” and they proclaim their dedication to the task of preserving “old, wise, hard-working words” for future generations to enjoy.
Use the Adopt-a-Word function to make a personal commitment to rescue just one worthy word from history’s dustbin. You never know when you might need to know what to serve a friend who claims to be an aquabib or what to pack when you plan to tour a vepracose location. It’s free and good fun, with sound effects that tug at a word lover’s heartstrings. If you are at all squiriferous, you won’t be able to resist bookmarking the site and visiting often.
‘Fess up: What annoying verbal habits do you recognize in yourself? How do you fight them? What tics in others drive you to distraction? Tell us all about it in the comments field below. Bonus nitpicker points to anyone who adopts a word and uses it here in Nitpicker’s Nook.