Author’s note: The following is a lightly—but only lightly!—fictionalized version of true events. It was a real argument, and my closing salvo was real, too.
“You’re such a word snob.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I snapped back. “But even if I could stop it, I wouldn’t. It’s part of why I’m successful in my work, the care I take with the words I choose.”
My husband and I were walking the dog together after having had dinner together at home, which used to be a rare thing, but with the pandemic is now a daily event. On the plus side of the pandemic, Skip and I spend a lot more time together. On the minus side, Skip and I spend a lot more time together. I mean, it is nice to have someone to have dinner with every night. But on the other hand, it means a lot more meals to prepare and a lot more dishes to wash than when I was just grabbing something fast on my way out the door to the gym every night before he would finally manage to get home at some way-too-late hour. Now I don’t go to the gym at all since it is closed.
Instead, we are both working from home far too late into the evenings, with competing video meetings and too many emails, and I’m cranky about not having “me” time, away from him. Walking the dog is a chance for us to get away from computers and the kitchen and maybe for me to downgrade the crankiness into mere wistfulness. So here we were, circling the neighborhood as the setting sun transformed the clouds from pink to peach to purple, and the serenade of cicadas rose above the chirping of crickets and birds returning home for the night.
“Just because you kill me in Scrabble every time we play doesn’t mean that you get to nitpick how I use words,” my spouse grumbled.
“I’m not nitpicking. Nitpicking is over little stuff. You used the word completely incorrectly.”
“Well, it’s a little word, so it’s nitpicking.”
“The size of a word has nothing to do with its significance,” was my quick retort. “Just because ‘to’ only has two letters doesn’t make it any less important to the meaning of your sentence.”
The thing that had started this heated exchange was his description of where he had taken our dog for her morning walk around the neighborhood. Skip said he had taken Bonnie Rose to the park at the end of our street.
“Oh, she really likes the park,” I had replied, “especially the area by the bridge going over Gully Creek. Did you take her there or over to the tennis court area, where she likes searching for lost balls?”
“Neither” came the response. “We went to the park but didn’t go in.”
“What?? Where exactly did you walk?”
“We exactly walked up to the fence that goes around the park and then walked on the sidewalk outside it on another street to come back home,” he answered, sounding a little self-defensive.
“So you didn’t really go ‘to the park’ if you just went to the edge of it,” I said. “As a land surveyor, when I’m reading a deed that says the property line runs ‘to’ something, it means to the middle of it. We go to the center of the monument, or the center of the tree, or the middle of the stream, unless the deed includes some other qualifying language.”
Skip is no mental slouch, but he wasn’t buying any of this. That’s when he called me a word snob and I became defensive.
“That’s too specialized a definition,” he countered. “If I were to go ‘to’ one of our neighbors’ houses to ask for a cup of sugar, I wouldn’t need to go inside after knocking on the door. I could just stand outside the door and the sugar could be handed out to me.”
“That’s an anomaly,” was my retort. “When you were growing up, did your parents ever tell you to go ‘to’ your room?”
“Not often, but yes,” he replied slowly, anticipating what was coming.
“And was standing outside the door of your room enough to satisfy your parents, or did you have to actually go inside?” I continued.
“Uhhh…” came the grudging response.
I couldn’t resist one last punch. “Next time you suggest we go ‘to’ the movies,” I said, “I hope that means we are going inside to watch a show instead of standing outside in the parking lot just gazing at the marquee.”
“So I guess Bonnie Rose and I walked toward the park and along the park?” he asked, “unless ‘along’ means something different in surveying, too?”
“Well, actually,” I began, and we were off again as we rounded the corner.