My frank, honest and therefore soon-to-be-ex-friend Carol recently told me that I used the phrase “I said” far too often when I spoke. She stopped short of saying it got on her nerves, but she certainly wasn’t throwing it a party. For a couple of days afterwards I was completely paranoid, and although I hated to admit it, she was right. I have spent the last two weeks trying to find substitutes for the “I said”s rising in my throat every 10 words, but it’s tough. The result is halting speech which makes me appear unsure of where I’m going with conversations. As I SAID, she’s off the Christmas list.
We all have physical and verbal habits of one level or another, and such repetitious or signature behaviour is rarely considered a good thing. You never hear someone start a complimentary sentence with “He/she has a habit of…” What? Being a wonderful person? No, no – it’s always more along the lines of “…being a nag,” or “…leaving dirty dishes in the sink,” or “…wearing a pineapple as a hat.” If someone is perpetually generous, you might say that they have a habit of being charitable, but it’s just not a natural sentence unless they’re famously stingy and so it suddenly becomes a statement laced with sarcasm. Then it works.
Are we all aware of our habits, endearing or otherwise? I thought I knew most of mine until she-who-shall-not-be-named chirped up about my apparent lack of originality when relaying a conversation to others. I have a habit of being overly sensitive…
Since deciding to write a column on this fascinating subject I am now immediately conscious of my every twitch, jerk and favourite phrase. I realize that I interrupt people constantly. Sure, they’ve got a story to tell, but mine is so much more fascinating! Some might call it rude, but really I’m the most important person in the conversation; or I have a habit of acting like I am.
I correct dear friends’ grammar and spelling. I can’t tell you how popular that makes me, and how keenly they scour my every response in the hope of finding a mistake. I didn’t realize the irritation of my ways until someone with a questionably superior intellect (ahem) began jumping on some of my Messenger errors due to my enthusiastic typing speed. I am now trying to curtail this habit and retract the first stone I cast. It may explain a lot of failed fledgling relationships, as there is nothing a man likes better than some cocky date giggling and saying “Don’t you mean CAN-a-pays?” Smug is unbecoming. This leads me to another unattractive habit: My penchant for trying to control everything…and using the word “penchant,” for that matter.
I remember back in the heady days of my youth when I thought I was a catch, I prematurely scuppered a budding romance because he ended almost every sentence with “you know?” It got to the point when I wasn’t even really concentrating on what he had to say – I just kept anticipating the next “you know,” which drove me to distraction. I thought ahead to the inevitable nuptials (because how could he but propose to such a gem?), and shuddered at the “I do…you know?” that undoubtedly would have been his answer to the priest’s pivotal question. Back then I had a habit of being picky. I’ve certainly outgrown that. Right now I’d probably welcome a man who ended every sentence with “you cow.”
My roommate Mark takes and consumes food and drink that isn’t his; rarely replacing it. You might say he has a habit of removing others’ comestibles for an indefinite period of time. In impolite society I believe they call it ‘stealing.’ I may begin a subsequent habit of pouring liquid laxative into my orange juice and wait for poetic justice to work its magic.
Bad habits are easy to pick up and sometimes very difficult to shake, but good habits, for some reason, usually don’t stick without work. Why is it that a daily or weekly routine that is good for us becomes a burden, or is it just me? I try to put moisturizer on my face every day, but sometimes I forget or race out the door without it. I wash my face with soap (hear the collective scream of beauty therapists everywhere), despite being told by a rather snotty young lady in the spa on our cruise ship that I should use a proper face wash all the time. In fairness she is correct – but her attitude, implying that I didn’t really deserve to have skin, irritated me. Should I carry on with my bad habit and end up with cheeks like an iguana by the time I’m 60 just to spite her, or should I get into the good habit she recommended? I am trying to change my ways, but I still sometimes have to slap my hand away as it reaches for that beckoning bar.
I am struggling with the daily multi-vitamin as well, but that’s partly because it smells like manure. I think the name brands coat their pills more lavishly, so I may have to spend the money so I can stand to swallow them.
Whatever about our good or bad habits, many of them define who we are, give us unique characteristics which make us instantly recognizable from afar, and as we get older, shape our personality based on lessons we have learned along the way. Family members share or inherit some of the above. I can certainly see that my siblings and I make similar gestures or pepper our conversations with familiar phrases. I don’t know that any of them utilize the apparently incredibly offensive “I said” to excess when they are comfortably chatting with people they believe to be friends. Which brings me back to Carol…
Carol does this annoying thing where she tells you your faults, but lists her own at the same time as though it’s supposed to soften the blow, or make you feel better. Example: “I know I have a habit of saying ‘In their defence’ but YOU have a habit of…a), b), c), d)…” Maybe it’s wrong to out her in this column; maybe I shouldn’t be naming her to the general public, and maybe I should be the bigger person.
I have a habit of being childish.
Afterthought: To those who have a habit of taking things way too seriously, I would like to say that any friends mentioned in my articles are well aware of their inclusion…apart from Mark, who we’ve established is a thief. They thankfully have a habit of seeing the funny side of things.