Maybe it’s because it’s Sunday and I might be having some kind of blended William Safire, Andy Rooney, and George Carlin moment. Maybe my inner curmudgeon is too close to the surface. Whatever the reason, this easy acceptance of not knowing what words mean–the easy ones, that is–and letting typos get by must stop. Disclaimer: I am still the typo queen. All the same, even though I make typos, when I find one I say “eek!!” and fix it right away. I recognize it as a mistake.

Case One: I am in Name Brand Clothing, that cornucopia of end lots and season overages from designers, department stores, and others. The best way to shop it is to literally go through each aisle carefully, since tags are color-coded and grouped together in the store based on how long the item-lot has been there. I found an incredibly spiffy dress for $9 that, like many others the last few seasons, needed a camisole to fill in the neckline, which plunged past cleavage to a midpoint  between boob and navel. I have a black camisole that I found at NBC for $3, but would like to add a brown and a cream one to the lineup. After my traditional careful look through all the aisles, I asked one of the (female) employees if there were any camisoles and she asked me what size I was looking for and told me one of the spots, not the only one, where my size could be found. Interesting. I took a closer look at her face and a light dawned. “You don’t have any idea what a camisole is, do you?” I said. After a pause, she replied “No.”

Now, a camisole is a tank-like undershirt, usually with adjustable spaghetti straps. Some have lace, some do not. They are commonly sold as either lingerie or casual-wear, depending on fabrication. I thought most women knew that, especially ones who work in a clothing store. In fact most women in their twenties own several and wear them in layers as outerwear, hopefully in summer months when it’s a reasonable choice. The camisole is also the apparel of choice on America’s Next Top Model for aspiring models who want to look fierce when smizing. All this is my way of saying that I did not ask for anything obscure. It’s no use saying that I should have called it a tank because everyone knows that a tank top is a sleeveless knit top with narrow one to two inch strap-like spans between neckline and armholes. That’s very different from adjustable spaghetti-straps attached to the body of a camisole. I told her what a camisole was, but if she heard or comprehended, it was a miracle. I was an obstruction that wouldn’t go away, and listening blankly was one way to make me go away. After I defined a camisole, the blank look continued. I asked again, “So, now that you know what it is, do you have any camisoles?” She repeated her look in your size strategy, which, given how the store is organized, means going through every aisle. I will say that if you work in a store that sells things and don’t know your inventory, this blank-look method combined with essentially telling a customer to go look for it yourself if you want it you idiot is remarkably efficient. Not so much for the customers, but excellent for good time management on the part of the employees.

Later, I did my grocery shopping for the week and went to the good Price Cutter, the one with the extensive organic section and a detailed aisle devoted to different ethnic specialties, a store that differentiates between Thai, Japanese, and Chinese specialty foods. I’ve bought candied ginger there before and wanted to do so again. It is a good garnish and just the right combination of sharp and sweet when tempted to opt for something high-caloric instead. I didn’t find it, but I knew that at the check out I would be asked if I found everything all right. I asked about candied ginger and I saw that blank look again. After a pause, the cashier said confidently that if it wasn’t in the candy aisle with all the other candy, they didn’t have it. The cashier in the next aisle agreed. Neither had any idea what it was and should have admitted that they did not know. I said, “Not candy, c-a-n-d-i-e-d,” but my efforts were complicated by the fact that neither one knew what ginger was. They do carry fresh ginger (clearly unknown to these two checkout clerks), but heaven help the customer who doesn’t find it on her/his own. So, essentially, the last line of support, where customarily inventory is looked up and even ordered for the future if a customer wants it, is now replaced with an offer for assistance that means nothing. They found it mildly interesting that I had bought candied ginger there before, but did not see it as anything to do with them or their jobs.

And now for Sarah Palin’s new book and typos. I saw two wretched typos that lasted way too long on Google News. Last night’s all-lower-case “mccain” is still up as of 8:00 AM for the link to the New York Times article, but I’m very relieved that I can no longer find the headline that seriously called her book “Going Rouge,” a quite different thing than the Going Rouge coloring book, which knows it’s a parody. Rouge, rogue, kind of the same thing with her, right? I wonder though, is this truly a typo, or are we giving jobs to people who lack basic vocabulary? Could it be that they don’t know what a rogue is and shrug off the the discontinuity that “rouge” makes when substituted? This troubles me. On the other hand, please, don’t let me turn into William Safire; I found his prescriptive approach to language appalling. I also hope mightily that this is not the result of eight years of political support for anti-intellectualism, that knowing the name for the things around you and knowing the specialized vocabulary for where you work is still valued, if not immediately by the employees, then by the employers. I’m not ready to be a curmudgeon for such small stakes. This should be the easy stuff.

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