Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In which I try not to whine about nursing school.

It's hard not to. On Easter, when a friendly young man showed up on my doorstep to share with me something out of the Bible, I actually said, "I'm in nursing school," as an excuse for why I didn't want to engage in conversation with him at that moment. My world view has become so myopic, that I just assumed he would understand that nursing students--particularly adult nursing students with four kids, and two frantically barking dogs --do not have time for anything. My whole attitude for the past two years has been, "What do you want from me? I'm in nursing school."

But there I go whining again.

I tried to think happy thoughts, and I realized that I am happy about Michelle Obama. She is the first First Lady of my lifetime for whom I've felt any enthusiasm. She buys her clothes at J. Crew! I buy my clothes at J. Crew! She's young (and yet older than I) and vibrant. She's awesome. Over the winter, it penetrated my bubble of self-absorption that Michelle Obama has been criticized for wearing sleeveless dresses. When one is First Lady, one can expect much commentary about one's wardrobe, and I did, I admit, think it was a tad eccentric to go sleeveless in the winter, in the daytime, but then, when one is from Chicago, the Washington D.C. winter must seem balmy, and-- OH HELP I'M ABOUT TO COMMENT ON MICHELLE OBAMA'S ARMS. No, there's nothing wrong with Michelle Obama's arms. If I had to criticize, I'd say she has Health Club arms, but is that so terrible? (Robin Givhan of the Washington Post called them "Post Title-IX arms" but whatever. That's why she writes for the Washington Post and I don't.) Don't most middle class women in America either have Health Club arms or aspire to them? And even if one objects to such blatant musculature, aren't Health Club arms preferable to, say, Lunch Lady arms, or East German "Female" Swimmer Circa 1984 arms? Of course, everybody else was talking about this in February, and here it is April, but you see I'm in nursing school and...

I'm reading Word Court by Barbara Wallraff and have become uncomfortably aware of my grammar deficiencies. I had one of those moms who would patiently say, "Mary and I," every time I or my siblings announced, "Me and Mary are..." Writing is one thing. It's easy to edit, delete, reword. I feel that I can almost always make my meaning clear, even if my writing is not always as elegant as it could be. Speaking, on the other hand, is difficult. I blush to remember how frequently I blurt a stream of solecisms, giving the impression that I am, at best, careless and imprecise, and at worst, uneducated. There are so many tricky rules, often involving the most common words in English: as, that, put, bring, take, convince, like, but, so, than, then, hopefully...

I have been aware of the problem with "hopefully," ever since I read, somewhere, the following passage: "She's the sort of person who misuses the word 'hopefully.'" At the time, I wasn't sure what it meant to misuse "hopefully" but I knew I didn't want to be the sort of person who did it. That passage haunted me, and eventually I learned the secret of "hopefully" from Bill Bryson's A Dictionary of Troublesome Words. As an adverb, "hopefully" is an inappropriate word with which to begin a sentence because adverbs are supposed to modify a verb and not express a wish. Hopefully, we still have some cookies. (Wrong.) She peered hopefully into the cookie jar. (Right.) I have, with effort, managed to prune "hopefully" from my speech, but I have learned that other people cling tenaciously to it, indeed, feel threatened when you try to take "hopefully" away from them. I once made the mistake of mentioning to a friend what I'd learned about "hopefully" and he got so upset, I thought our friendship was over. It's not like I said, "Hey, you just used "hopefully" wrong, idiot." I think we were talking about language in general and I pointed out the common misuse of hopefully, and caused serious offense when I didn't mean to. I am hopeful that I will use more tact in the future.


  1. Language use changes over time, I think you can probably give up worrying about "hopefully" unless you are writing a book to be published. Amazing to handle nursing school and 4 children and still stay upbeat and tactful.

  2. "Hopefully" is not worth worrying about. Here are some more examples of adverbs being used to modify whole sentences:

    Sadly, this season of American Idol is not yet over.

    Mercifully, there are only three more episodes of American Idol left to go.

    Thankfully, we won't have to watch American Idol much longer.

    Ironically, American Idol is so popular, no one watches it anymore.

  3. Those upper arms that flap in the breeze when you wave them over your head? My son calls them "Bingo Arms".

  4. I hope you haven't noticed how often I misuse "hopefully." I do it all the time, though, so my hope is probably vain.

  5. Oft times when I make a concerted effort to use proper grammar in my speech, I feel like a pretentious ass. I applaud your efforts, though.

    Oh how I long for Health Club arms, but I'm afraid that would require actually going to a health club, and then actually doing something while I was there.