Thursday, July 18, 2013
The meanings of words can get so twisted, you begin to suspect we are already living in the oppressive dystopia that once seemed so scary in science fiction. You start to wonder whether all those smash-the-system revolutionary types might be onto something. Maybe we already are slaves, and don't even know it.
"High Yield"? For a savings account that gives 0.35 percent interest? That's 35 cents per year on every $100 forked over to the bank so they can loan it back out at 10 times your return. That's a third of a percent away from 0.0 percent interest, a.k.a. nothing. Given that benchmark, what would a "Low Yield Money Market" look like? Is that where you pay the bank for taking your money? With bank fees, many of us already are.
A few minutes after I snapped the above, shaking my head at the memory of the quaint 5 percent passbook accounts we had when we were kids, I popped into the Walgreens at Clark and Lake to pick up some personal supplies —deodorant, Cherry Life Savers, nothing earth-shattering.
Not the most complicated process. Scan the aisles, grab the products, head for the check out. There was a line -- one line, which seemed long, but it fed to five, count 'em, five cashiers, so it wouldn't be too bad. I got in line; it moved quickly.
"Next guest," said a cashier, as the customer left and a person walked up to make his purchase. "Next guest," another cashier called out. "Next guest..."
I heard the "guest" locution about half a dozen times before I had the chance to pay for my stuff.
"Is this something new?" I asked the clerk, who looked at me, amazed, as if the deodorant had spoken. This wasn't in the script. He looked confused.
"This 'guest' business?" I elaborated, trying to be helpful.
"Yeah," he finally said. I considered questioning him further but, realized he wasn't going to be a font of information, so took my purchase and hurried out.
Not to take anything away from The Walgreen Company. A fine Chicago-born institution, the largest drug store chain in the world, based in the benign suburban funzone of Deerfield. The stores are well run, as far as I can tell, with none of the oppressive fascist taint of Walmart or the gigantism-induced queasiness of Costco. They're trying to make customers feel welcome. I get that.
But "guests"? Really? If I am going to be a Walgreens guest, I want to be lounging on the Walgreen family yacht, and I would bet that nobody popping into one of the stores for hygiene products considers himself to be a "guest" either, no matter how well treated. Nor does he want to be.
I know exactly where this particular bit of nonsense is from -- the Disney total control system, where workers are not "employees" but "cast members." Pretty to think so, though at Disney World the "guest" business at least makes a bit of sense, since you're bedding down there, often, and eating there, which meshes closer to traditional notions of hospitality than rushing in to pick up Q-Tips.
Walgreens has just started this latest degradation of our language; it should stop it now, before "guest" takes on the shabbiness of "event," a word that car dealers seized upon and ruined, chewing it up like dogs, unwilling to have their automobiles disposed of at anything so low class as a "sale." They have held so many "special sales events" for so many years, the words have been scrubbed of all meaning, with "special" suffering even more abuse at the hands of those trying to put a bright spin on disability, so much that now "special" is freely used as an insult by children on playgrounds all across America.
Don't let the same thing happen to "guest." Don't let it take on the meaning of "person spending money while being treated indifferently by minimum-wage automatons." Consumers have less and less power as it is. Let's snatch back "guest" and keep it for ourselves, as something special ... well, no, not "special" ... something meaningful, to use to describe the real people in our lives who visit us at our homes for tea on Sunday afternoons. Not that such people exist, but if they ever do appear, we'll want a word to describe them.