or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


One of my favourite lines ever from South Park is, "There are no stupid questions, just stupid people." Anyone who's ever worked in retail knows all about the stupid people, who sometimes seem to outnumber the normal, brain-equipped ones.

In this recent Consumerist gripe session about bad customers, someone tells the following story:

She...asked me to write "Congratulations Steve, Class of 2000" on it.

I wrote this down on the work order, but she started getting pissed off.

CUSTOMER: "No, no, no, you spelled it wrong. It's C-O-N-G-R-A-D-L-U-A-T-I-O-N-S"
ME: "Ma'am, excuse me, but it has two ts. There is no D in congratulations."

There was a line behind her, so I figured she didn't want to look stupid. Still....

CUSTOMER: "Listen, I'm not taking spelling lessons from some high school drop out."
ME: "Ma'am, I assure you I have a high school diploma and an associates--"
CUSTOMER: "I don't care if you went to Harvard, I know how to spell congratulations, and there's a D in it."
ME: "Ma'am, I cannot take a return on a custom engraving, so I'm going to verify in the dictionary the correct spelling."
CUSTOMER: "You'll only see that you're wrong."

Without saying anything, I simply pointed to the word in the dictionary.

CUSTOMER: "Well, your dictionary is wrong!"

Now, there's no guarantee that if the customer would have absorbed any Latin if it had been taught to her, but if she had, she'd have been able to reason as follows:

1) The "-grat-" in "congratulations" is like the "grat-" in "grateful" or "gratifying", so "congratulations" probably means something like "being happy together".

2) The "grad-" in "graduate" is like the "grad-" in "gradual" and "gradation", and probably therefore has something to do with a stepwise progression, so when you graduate, you make the final step out of your education and into a new life.

3) Therefore, there is no "grad" in "congratulation".

And if she had thought along those lines, she would have been right. "Congratulation" is at its root from Latin "gratus", "happy". "Graduation" is from "gradus", a step or a small degree of change, from the verb "gradi", "to go, to step, to walk".

If you like to read stories of stupid customers, you will have lots of fun with Not Always Right and with Customers Suck. (They don't all suck. I deal with a fair number of very nice people on a daily basis. It's the awful ones who make for good stories.)


Anonymous OmegaMom said...

Ah! One of my very most pet peeves! (Which I realize is not kosher grammar, but I do it deliberately, aware of its non-kosherness, unlike the lady in the story.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

At the risk of stating the very obvious, a risk I am always willing to take, the problem is that we in North America generally pronounce "congratulate" as if it were spelled "congradulate", so it's understandable that some people would get the spelling wrong. And this is why we need to teach Latin and etymology and the like to impressionable children.

As for your grammar, it works for me. You do get to break the rules for effect, as long as you know what they are.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 12:09:00 AM  

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