Monday, April 28, 2008

The Hooplah: Hey dashtard,-- take care...

Ah yes, a post without politics, in which we look at signs around the country, argue about the devilish salutation "Take care," and mourn the dashtard...we hardly knew ye.

First, here are some interesting signs, gathered from the four corners of my brain.

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Now that that foolishness is over, the heart of the matter.

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"Thanks for calling, y'all. Take care."

Who among us hasn't had a phone conversation end that way, with a complete stranger wishing you well with just those two words? More and more these days I find myself told to "take care" by people I don't know. Ordinary people - normies, I call them - would see that as a sign that we're all coming together as one people, wishing bounteous health and prosperity on our fellow man.

But doesn't it feel to you, instead of just idle words, "take care" is like a hug from someone you just met or the villainous "kiss hello" of Seinfeld fame?

I shake hands when I meet people. I tell them to have a good day, to enjoy themselves. I'll even go so far as to say "you, too" if they end the conversation in a congenial enough manner that doesn't impose on the relationship. But ever so rarely would I tell someone to "take care." It can be a sinister phrase, followed by an ellipse in my head ("Take care..."), with the image of a mustachioed man in shadows whispering into a dirty phone booth receiver before lightly replacing it in the cradle, the click of termination indicative of more than just the end of our call.

This is a paranoid perspective, I am told.

That perfect strangers wish me harm instead of good after a few minute phone call is a thin theory, to say the least. More likely than not, the wholesaler or tech-help guy or dentist's secretary doesn't care one whit about me or mine and has a rote "goodbye" that isn't so abrupt and impersonal, but in the act of standardizing such a phrase, that's also an unexpected outcome. So aside from making me squirm, thinking that some person is sending gooey vibes across the country, they're also taking a perfectly innocent phrase and robbing it of its sentimentality.

I do use the phrase on exceedingly rare occasion, and respond well if I know the person. I don't hug you just because I've met you, or we shared a few dozen words over long-distance phone lines. If I don't feel it, why say it? If I they don't mean it, why belabor the point and introduce an awkwardness to our connection?

Doctors and health care professionals can use the phrase with impunity because it is their business to take care of us, so by extension, they'd remind us at the last point of interaction. "Take care [while you're away from me]," they imply.

(Now lawyers.... "Take care [to engage in hazardous activity that results in a beautiful paycheck for at least one of us].")

Am I crazy? Does this make me crazy? I'm an optimistic guy, anyone will tell you (despite the red, white and blue elephant on my key chain). Actively, I wish no harm on the bulk of the general population and good favor on a select bunch. To be so indiscriminate when using that phrase - it rings cold to me.

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Perhaps I had a thought,-- but oh, another! Notice the curious but grammatically well-lineaged punctuation in the midst of that sentence.

",--" It is the noble dashtard, and it has fallen into disuse and death.

Interspersed across centuries of European writing, the dashtard, a mixing in various fashions of a comma or semi-colon followed by several dashes, suggests a break more pronounced than any of its component parts. There's substance in them thar pause between thoughts.

Today, pretentious writers use the dashtard to stand out, to appear truly in-the-know to have used such an odd and unknown piece of linguistic history.

Nicholson Baker, the essayist and novelist, dedicated hundreds of words to the praise of the dashtard, its uses and its eventual doom beneath standardized formatting. There is no room in the MLS handbook for punctuation that depends on the writer for 1) form and 2) meaning.

Do lists follow a ";--" or a whole new sentence? Why use ",--" when I could use ";" or "-" by their lonesome? There is little logic to the choice, just eccentricity on the author's part. Guidebooks cannot do their job without concrete examples that can be backed up if need be. There are a lot of sentences out there that use periods, so it's hardly an issue to find them. But how many use dashtards? And in the same manner?

But you now know of the dashtard, and can begin using it in your writing. Maybe it never appears in print;-- the idea, my friends, does live on.



jmc said...

I happen to like the phrase "take care." I think it strikes a pretty good balance between being too cold and too familar. I sometimes use the phrase "take care" as a way of taking the edge out of saying "have a nice life" - both have a subtle implied lack of follow up.

I would also rather have someone tell me to take care than say "see you later" when, deep down, we both know that even if we lived a thousand lifetimes we would probably never see each other again.

Saying "take care" is a genuine way of telling someone that you care enough that you would rather not see something bad happen to them and yet you probably don't care enough to actually see them again.

Adam said...

I find myself using (and hearing in return) "have a good one" or "take it easy."

Switching from conversation closings to openings, since college I have found myself irritated by the greeting "What's up?" It's far too vague in nature. How would you like me to respond to that? "Well, I've got this project at work that's a bitch, the kids are sick, and I think I'm sprouting new toes. What's up with you?"

"How's it going?" isn't much better, but at least that can be answered with a succinct "Oh, not too bad."