Issue 14 |

If English words had jobs

by on October 5, 2019

From: LIKE [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, October 9, 2018 10:08 AM
To: Mercury [mailto:[email protected]]
Subject: Job transfer

Hello Mercury,

I’m writing to request a job transfer. But let me preface that request by saying that I am grateful to have a job here. I realize that a lot of words are out of work these days. I know that it has been hard for you to watch the average English vocabulary shrink, and I know that you’ve had to make some tough calls about which words you could keep on staff. So I’m thankful to still be here.

But the reduction in personnel is what’s making my job so much more difficult than it used to be. I was already overworked when I was involved with four different departments at the same time. Then my job description expanded to include the Conjunction Department. And now the guys from Interjection are unofficially dumping work on me too. Frankly, this is getting ridiculous.

I can appreciate that we are radically under-staffed right now. I understand that with such a limited budget, we couldn’t afford to keep contractors like PERISTERONIC and UMBRAGEOUS on the payroll. And I know that there is no room for redundancy: we couldn’t pay ROBORATIVE to do the same job that RESTORATIVE was already doing. But if the total workload is going to increase indefinitely while the personnel decreases, I think that eventually my job is going to be too stressful for me to sustain.

Respectfully,
LIKE


From: Mercury [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Friday, October 12, 2018 3:16 PM
To: LIKE [mailto:[email protected]]
Subject: RE: Job transfer

Hi LIKE,

Sorry that it’s taken me a while to get back to you. They’re renovating the third floor right now and contractors have been ripping out the old stone fireplace in my office and replacing it with a space heater. So my work schedule has been kind of topsy-turvy.

I hear what you are saying about the stress of your job. But you need to understand that the economy is beyond my control. I don’t get to decide what the market for working words will be; I just respond to the demand. And right now the semantic job market is very weak.

I wish we could pretend that it was the heyday of wordsmithing around here, but it’s not. I wish people were still willing to pay top dollar for the perfectly apt verb, or spend an entire minute searching for the best possible noun. But that’s not the name of the game these days. Precision, lucid expression, and brilliant flights of semantic imagination are not in high demand right now, and I’ve had to lay off a lot of good folks because of it. People don’t want a variety of options from us anymore. They aren’t interested in freshly coined material. They want familiar words, stock phrases, pre-fabricated sentence structure, well-worn semantic ruts. They want quick, “close enough” solutions.

Meanwhile, the demand for raw output is higher than ever, and our company has to churn out even more verbiage than before to keep up. But no one knows that better than you, right? You’re one of our most in-demand contractors right now. Didn’t I hear that a thirteen-year-old child deployed you seventeen times in a single minute yesterday? He used you five times before he even got to the verb, right? So I’m sure that you of all words can appreciate the sheer quantity that we are expected to provide. And because of that, I have to ask: if I give you a transfer, who’s going to pick up the slack?

Best,
Mercury


From: LIKE [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Saturday, October 13, 2018 8:23 AM
To: Mercury [mailto:[email protected]]
Subject: RE:RE: Job transfer

Hello Mercury,

Thanks for your reply. I guess my central concern is not really the workload, though that’s certainly one of my frustrations. My biggest worry is that we, as a company, ought to be assessing the value of our end product and not just racing thoughtlessly to keep up with demand.

You’ve seen how much overtime I will gladly put into a worthwhile contract. I happily work time-and-a-half for a truly sweeping Homeric simile. That’s the kind of project that I joined the company to do so many years ago. When I interviewed, you told me that yes, I would have to do my fair share of hack work, but that I would also have lots of opportunities to collaborate on real rhetorical masterpieces.

But when was the last time I built a truly profound comparison? At the moment, I feel as though all of my projects are just semantic padding. I’m working twelve-hour days, and for what? For people who are too timid to wield a metaphor. I wouldn’t even mind so much if the projects were insipid similes. But now I spend all my time slaving for people who are just shying away from direct communication entirely. I’m coming in to the office on weekends, I’ve got no social life, and it’s all so that I can be verbal styrofoam peanuts between human beings and reality.

Let me give you an example that’s sitting on the top of my inbox. It was a sentence from the mouth of a fifth-grader who was answering a question in class: “Irate…that’s like when you get really mad at someone, right?” I’m just insulation foam in that sentence, padding the kid from definitive meaning. She used me to water down a declarative statement into a squishy pseudo-analogy…in the form of a question!

It gets worse. Here’s one from last week. “So, like, are you going to see Stephanie today?” What kind of contribution am I making there, exactly? Why did I even have to show up to that project? Apparently I’m just a cheap substitute for “um”. I didn’t get into this business to be a meaningless vocable. If I’m going to stoop that low, I might as well join COME and DO and get a second job in the red light district.

In frustration,
LIKE


From: Mercury [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Wednesday, October 17, 2018 10:02 AM
To: LIKE [mailto:[email protected]]
Subject: RE:RE:RE: Job transfer

Hi LIKE,

Again, sorry for the delay. I think you heard about the identity-theft lawsuit that NAUSEATED is threatening against one of our current employees, NAUSEOUS. We were in legal mediation all day yesterday and I didn’t have time to deal with my e-mails.

Let’s not bring references to the red light district into company e-mails, okay? It’s bad enough that half the English language seems to be working there these days; I don’t need to be reminded about it at work.

With regard to your point: it’s easy to be zealous about quality control, but what kind of end value is our product going to have if the company goes under completely? I wish we could swim harder against the tide of consumer demand, but if we obsess so much about quality that we bankrupt ourselves, then our competitors are going to be the sole visionaries shaping the next generation of rhetoric.

So we’re adapting as best we can. And I don’t mean to downplay the strain that this is putting on you, but frankly, some of our other words have had to make even bigger sacrifices. Take AWESOME, for instance. You think his work environment hasn’t changed? I have to talk him down from the ledge once a week. He’s so fed up with it. It used to be nothing but seraphs and glaciers and tsunami for him, and now he has to go to work every time someone finds an extra peanut M&M in their bag. And did you know that LITERALLY is actually in therapy these days? All those years he spent honing one meaning, and now the poor guy has to go and completely reverse all the work himself. It’s really done a number on him. He’s taking medication for schizophrenic episodes.

If you want some advice on how to get through a tough transition period like this, try talking to HOPEFULLY. When his job description expanded, he could have played the wounded prima donna and tried to correct everyone’s usage. He could have screeched, “what does this idiot mean, ‘Hopefully, I will get the septic tank drained today’? How does an afternoon spent knee deep in sewage fill him with hope?” But he didn’t. He just quietly adapted to the new situation, and now he’s completely at home with it.

Best,
Mercury

One Response to “If English words had jobs”

  1. This was, like, awesome, Chris! Hopefully they’ll publish more of your stuff. I get literally nauseated when people use words bad.

    Reply

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