It can be dangerous to seize the moral or social high-ground. But it’s what institutions and their representatives do for a living.

Take the venerable Church of England. It gets its ecclesiastical underwear in a tangle every time a social norm is challenged, trying valiantly to remain relevant. Divorce, same-sex partnerships, gender-switching – and now women’s rights. Guess what! Equal pay is a distant dream for female staff at Head Office! Come on, Justin.

And on the day when British society’s top dog conducts his final public duty, the top people’s handbook flies in the face of decency and established principle. How? By declaring that the cognoscenti now accept the long-outlawed retort, ‘Pardon?’ when one mishears or seeks clarification. The Murican interrogative alternative, ‘Excuse me?’ has never gained acceptance in the face of the patrician, ‘What?’ and is now firmly removed from the contest by the plebeian and not-a-little-Gallic, ‘Pardon?’.

Both of these faux pas will acquire legs, I fear. Two referenda will be needed to help us decide what to do.

Author: janus

I'm back......and front - in sunny Sussex-by-the-sea

27 thoughts on “Pardon?”

  1. “…The Murican interrogative alternative, ‘Excuse me?’ has never gained acceptance in the face of the patrician, ‘What?’ and is now firmly removed from the contest by the plebeian and not-a-little-Gallic, ‘Pardon?’….”

    I say ‘sorry’ or ‘what’. Pardon is a a bit rude and ‘Excuse me’ with that upward inflection is just stupid. If some one is being rude just tell them to f**k off…works well.

  2. “Sorry is too humble”. Well that depends how you say it.

    A linguistics professor was lecturing to his class one day. “In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive. In some languages though, such as Russian and Afrikaans, a double negative is still a negative.

    However,” he pointed out, “there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”

    A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

  3. Anyway, all I can think about now is the current childish attempt by remaining EU countries to punish Brits at borders. We have read about Spain. Yesterday at Copenhagen the passport checks for non/Shengen arrivals were reduced from four desks to…….one. Pathetic.

  4. I’m flying to Blighty on Monday next. I’ll let cherished colleagues know whether or not the need arises to start snarling at some uncooperative young jobsworth, but I’m packing FrizzEase (100 ml max. allowance) as a precaution.


  5. Janus: This has nothing to do with the UK’s impending liberation from the EU and everything to do with traditional European complacency. New security measures were agreed upon in 2015 and Schengen states had two years to prepare for implementation. Very few actually boffered. As a result, airports are generally completely unprepared for this and passengers will suffer. Irish, Canadians, Australians, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, etc. are also caught in the maelstrom.

    Then there is the other edge of the sword… By staying out of Schengen, the UK has largely managed the migration crisis unscathed — or as close to it as possible. At the same time, it cannot be treated the same way a Schengen member would. The rare moment of good comes with the regular stream of bad. Spare a thought for me. In October I have to deal with three unpleasant things in a row. A Schengen-non-Schengen flight, Heathrow AND a flight to the Glorious Empire of Trumponia with all that entails. I must endure all three in one day.

  6. Commiserations, CT. My explanation for the border chaos is a classic case of the fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, as the old logicians called it. I assumed Brexit was the trigger, as I suspect more then half the tourists do.

  7. Janus: You are correct in that assumption. Many have called for there to be a UK citizens queue at British airports to retaliate. The tabloid press haven’t helped matters in the least. This is a classic Euro-dog’s breakfast. As I’ve said before, Americans have a tendency to overreact and cause more problems than necessary. However, Americans are least try to respond to changes in a timely manner. In Europe there is a tendency to dither and try to ignore problems until they grow far larger and more difficult to deal with. If the two approaches could somehow be balanced…

    The only saving grace is that I can go through the Schengen queue at Copenhagen and the citizens queue at San Francisco. Having an American father does on occasion prove convenient.

  8. cogitationator August 3, 2017 at 9:33 am “¿Que?”

    The words mean yes, the tone means no. Use of the word ‘sorry’ can mean many things, not just humility as suggested by Janus. It all depends on the tone of the speaker’s voice.

  9. Janus: But this is where dialectology comes in! In the rubbish heap to the north and east of Portugal, it is perfectly acceptable. In Mexico, not so much. Mexicans prefer ¿Mande?. “Que” is seen as too harsh and abrupt, ill-mannered, ill-tempered, even. “Mande” is a contraction of the New Spanish colonial “commando mi, mi senor”.

  10. At the end of the YouTube clip I posted above, Billy says “Sorry?” in response to Pamela’s question as in “I don’t understand you, please repeat.”

    Christopher – In the area to the south and west of the rubbish heap (I like that), one is habitually greeted at a shop counter or in a bar by a curt “Diga!”, the imperative form of the verb “Dizer”. It translates literally as “Speak!”, but actually means “Good day to you, Sir, may I be of assistance”. Similarly, in my neck of the woods the phone is answered with a simple “To!”, pronounced as a gruff “Toh!”, short for “Bom dia/Boa tarde/Boa Noite. Eu estou ouvindo. Diga!”

    Regarding my forthcoming visit to Blighty, I’m on a flight leaving at dark o’clock in the morning, so will not be in the best of humours to start with. I have paid O’Lairy’s scoundrels for fast track through customs, priority boarding to a reserved seat, the use of the stairs and I will have a couple of coins about my person for the lock if I need a pee (Cheap flights, cheap flights, etc.). I am taking only a carry on bag of the correct weight and dimensions and I have a biometric passport. I’m not going to be the last one hurt if it all goes tits up, trust me.


  11. Sipu: Even though I’m well aware that tone of voice can be all, I don’t think I’ve ever been terribly good at modulating my own voice.

    As for others, I couldn’t write “¿Que?” without thinking of Manuel in Fawlty Towers. Also, while American (it says here), I tend to avoid saying “excuse me” because it always puts me in mind of Steve Martin’s wildly exaggerated “excuuuuuse me.” Now, to me, “pardon” seems to cry out for a French accent.

    When responding to a request for clarification, it’s hard to beat what Desi Arnaz said: “Lemme ‘splain you, Lucy.”

  12. Sipu: Now I really *really* don’t understand what is going on about me. “Sorry?” Whatever for? And why say, “silly me,” when you’re one of the least silly people on here. That and the general tone suggest that I’ve somehow managed to offend you but I can’t for the life of me think why or how.

    Or have I somehow failed to understand the contexts within this thread? At this point, rather than go back and “take it from the top,” I think it safer to fall back upon a repetition of that Manuel-esque expression of total bewilderment: “¿Que?” An alternative possible means of extrication, one that covers bets either way, might be to paraphrase Roger Zelazny: “If I have given offense, then I apologize. If not, I do not.”

    Disirregardless (?) of all else, I did understand (!) and thoroughly appreciate your double-positive thingie.

  13. Mornin’ all. Just reporting that my fears about flight disruption proved unfounded and I went through security, passport control and boarding in record time. The massive, disruptive, three year long upgrade of Faro airport is now complete apart from some cosmetic details and there were staff alles über der Platz.
    The flight departed bang on time and landed twenty minutes early.

    The only fly in the ointment was after I put my carry on bag of the correct weight and dimensions into the overhead and sat down only to find the adjoining seat occupied by a big, fat, sweaty b*st*rd who was not, hence I didn’t see much of the armrest – literally. I am surprised that O’Lairy hasn’t cottoned on to the idea of charging passengers by weight and volume. Never mind, “Does your bag fit into this little cage?”, but rather, “Can you fit into any of these t-shirts? You will be surcharged for each ‘X’ needed beyond ‘L’ up to XXXL, after which you will be refused boarding”. If so, there are some outstanding porkers who probably couldn’t afford to fly, which would make life infinitely more bearable for the rest of us.


  14. Hi Cog, a bit late, but you in no way offended me. I had thought that your “¿Que?” was a response to my slightly off-topic comment and concluded that you thought I was spouting nonsense. I should have realised that you were impersonating Manuel.

    Janus, on the same basis, i.e. that of not wishing to offend, unusual as that may be, please can you explain the difference between pre-booking and booking an aisle seat. I find pre to be a vastly over used prefix in today’s world; an unnecessary tautology if you will. It is bad enough that one has to pre-heat an oven but these days people cook with pre-prepared ingredients.

  15. Sipu: Thank you for setting my mind at rest. I do try never to offend anyone in a public venue such as this – unless, of course, they really deserve it. (Muahahaha!)

    OZ: I can go you one better. Running late as has been all too often the case with me, I once checked in for a flight just in time to get the very last seat on the plane. It turned out to be a middle seat, where I found myself sandwiched between TWO porkers, no doubt on their way home from a gluttons’ convention. Good thing it was a relatively short flight!

  16. Cog: I was once on an intercontinental flight. For a time it seemed as if the middle seat would be empty. The passenger sitting on the aisle was a thin Englander. Suddenly, just as the door was about to close, a morbidly obese Maltese man who sweat like David Duke at a Black Panthers’ convention shoe-horned himself into the middle. Nice enough man, but it felt like we needed a row boat.

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