March 14, 2013

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Going to be hot & Ms, Mrs, Miss, and Mr.

Posted in it's going to be hot, Mr., Ms/Ms. at 7:37 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Going to be hot

A reader writes:

In a restaurant tonight, I heard a waitress say to a customer at the next table as she served food, “Careful, the plate is going to be hot.”  I thought to myself: “going to be” hot.  You mean it’s cold now, but somehow it’s going to heat up on its own?  What she really meant, of course, is that the plate is hot, right now (and if any temperature change is in store, it’s going to be cooling off).  I’ve heard other servers use the same kind of construction.  Is this restauranese?  Some more general form of newspeak?  Or is this actually correct English, and I’m the one who is going to be learning something new?

 While I am loathe to tell an esteemed colleague that I think he is wrong, I think I have to in this case. Thankfully, he gave me that option, when he said, ‘Is this actually correct English?’

I think this is correct English. I have heard it used and have used it myself all of my life. I have a vivid memory of my mother warning me not to touch something because ‘it’s going to be hot.’  I don’t think the server is implying that the plate is currently cold. It’s just that part of the sentence was left unsaid. I think what the server was saying was this:

Be careful, because when I put this plate on the table in front of you, it is (still) going to be hot.

It doesn’t matter (or so it seems) that the plate is hot now for the server—the important thing is that the patrons do not burn themselves. So the server is talking about a future event: when the plate is put down, and in that sense the ‘going to be’ form is perfect correct.

I think waiters and mothers and many of us just use the shortcut and say, ‘This is going to be hot,’ and it is understood that it means, ‘When you get the dish, it is going to be hot for you.’

Does that make sense? I hope, at least, the meal was good—and not too hot.

Tip 2: Ms, Ms., Miss, Mrs., and Mr.

A reader writes:

Is there a rule or guideline for using Ms. instead of Mrs. or Miss in professional communications? I know I prefer it, but I wasn’t sure if it really was a matter of personal preference or something that I should be advising students to do.

I’m not sure that these is a rule, but I think Miss and Mrs. are old fashioned terms, and it doesn’t make sense to use them anymore—with one exception. If you know the person you are addressing prefers Miss or Mrs., by all means give the person the salutation that she prefers.

Speaking of old fashioned—I was reading an article that said that kids don’t use Facebook anymore because it is too old fashioned:

To understand where teens like to spend their virtual time nowadays, just watch them on their smartphones. Their world revolves around Instagram, the application adults mistook for an elevated photography service and other apps decidedly less old-fashioned than Mark Zuckerberg’s main kingdom.    (CNet.com)

Well, if Facebook is already old fashioned, then the terms, Mrs. and Miss, are positively archaic.

I like Ms because like Mr., it reveals nothing about the person’s marital status. This makes sense since marital status is irrelevant in many settings. Both Ms and Mr., are completely neutral terms with respect to marital status and age.

About whether Ms should be spelled with a period or not, I generally omit it. In writing this, I notice that Microsoft Word’s spell checker considers the spelling without the period to be wrong. That’s almost enough, right there, to make me support the use of Ms without the period. If Microsoft doesn’t like it, then it’s okay by me. But it really doesn’t matter. Some people like the symmetry with Mr. and use the period; others leave it out as Ms is not really an abbreviation of anything. Either way is fine.

Now, about ma’am. Oh never mind.

2 Comments »

  1. Jeff said,

    I think that saying “It’s going to be hot” might actually move into a deeper realm than we’re realizing. Temperature sensitivity is highly subjective–low temperatures don’t bother me, but I can’t stand to wash the dishes in scalding water that my wife uses. If a waitress or waiter said to me “It’s hot,” I would think that from their point of view, the plate is hot. This will probably be the case for me, because people tend to agree whether certain things are hot. If they told me that “It’s going to be hot,” I would probably think something different, like “Okay. If I touch it, my perception will be that the plate is hot and melting my fingers off,” or some such.

    This might be one aspect where language is much deeper than we realize, or it could be that it’s my daily over-thought thing for the day. Probably the latter…

  2. Warsaw Will said,

    I’m also very familiar with “it will be hot” (BrE). I tried Googling both “Careful, it’s going to be hot” and “Careful, it will be hot”. Results are quite similar, mainly coming from cookery books, so they both seem to be quite standard when talking of food. I wonder if there is an implied conditional, as Jeff suggested – “If you touch it, it’ll be hot”


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