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It’s difficult being an insufferable know-it-all.  It’s hard to bite my tongue when I know the right answer.   This was something I struggled with all the way through grad school.   I can remember being in confirmation class in 8th grade and making wildly exaggerated gestures clasping my mouth shut and simultaneously raising my hand, trying not to blurt out the answer.  And yes, to all you teachers out there, I know how annoying that is.  And it’s still something I struggle with in polite conversation.

When it is okay to correct someone, and when is it best to just let it go? 

I had an unfortunate roommate in college – unfortunate, because I chose to room with her.  More tragic because I chose to travel with her, to go backpacking for seven weeks in Western Europe, and I realized how much I disliked her after I’d already committed to this trip.  To be with her 23.5 hours a day.  Among her less-than-stellar features, beyond her diet, which consisted of white bread, cheese, and fruit; and her perpetual post-nasal drip; she possessed the complete and utter inability to resist asserting her perception of The Right Answer.  And unlike how we were taught in debate class, where you’re supposed to back up your answer with some form of evidence, she would just matter-of-factly state, “No.  You’re wrong.”  This complete and total shut-down would leave me shrouded in self-doubt until I could look up my own allegation and quietly stew that I never had guts enough to assert myself to her face. 

“No.  The plural of passerby is passerbies.  You’re wrong.”

“No.  My grandmother bakes the best babka in the world.”

“No.  I can only eat my restricted vegetarian diet because I asserted myself at a very young age as clearly not liking meat.  You’re wrong.”

“No.  My mother said that even though I need only hypo-allergenic products, this one is okay because it’s Israeli.”

“No.  The portrayal of Jenny dying from AIDS in Forrest Gump was not very realistic.  You’re wrong.”

I must backtrack.  There was actually some “proof” offered in the way of “My mother said…” as if she were still arguing at the level of an 8 year old. 

I’d hit up my grammar books, wikipedia, whatever I had in hand.  I’d look up the things that were provable.  And I’d sigh deeply.  Let it go, let it go. 

Yet, when the shoe is on the other foot, and I hear misinformation, I am learning to resist correcting people for many reasons.  In the company of others, it makes one look foolish, to be pointed out as wrong.  If it’s not really important (like one road being more expedient than the other when there’s no deadline at stake), I’m trying to just let it go.  No one likes to be corrected.  Though a little piece of me dies when I hear people invent words like “independency” and pronounce “tortilla” like “tortilia”, I leave it alone, I bring it home, and I vent to Mr. Apron.  It’s not really important, unless it’s in a document with my name on it, like an IEP.  Then I’ll surreptitiously make the changes to reflect my command of the written English language, and we’ll all move on with life. 

But Mr. Apron’s not home tonight.  He’s at another rehearsal, and I can’t complain to him in person. 

A coworker, whom I have respect for on a person and professional level, has now twice said things I have had to hold my tongue about.  Stupid little things.  Things I’ve had to come home and google, because I just knew they weren’t right. 

It’s the time of year for Girl Scout cookies, those magical confections whose limited availability makes them so desirable!  They are pretty much the only cookie I will buy, besides Newman O’s, which are vastly superior to Oreos in every way.  All other cookies in my home came out of my oven or my mother’s.  But oh those Girl Scout cookies, with their funny names and delicious transfats!  Mmm…When I moved to Eastern Pennsylvania, I discovered that the cookies I’d known as Samoas in my childhood were suddenly Caramel deLites, that Trefoils were suddenly shortbreads, and that Tagalongs were Peanut Butter Patties.  Being a traditionalist, I balked.  But finally last year, after living here for six years in cool defiance to the different names, I looked it up.  Ah, wikipedia, though hast informed me thus: beyond merely a “regional” difference, each tribe/sect of Girl Sprouts buys their cookies from one of two suppliers: ABC Bakers, or Little Brownie Bakers (also a subsidiary of Keebler, and, thus, Kellogg). Each supplier uses different names, except for Thin Mints, which are universally called Thin Mints, instead of Skinny Minties, or Chocolato Minto or Lakotas.  All my life, I’d apparently been eating Little Brown Baker cookies, and not known it.  Suddenly, I found myself in the heart of ABC Baker country, and here I shall remain, though stubbornly refusing to call Samoas anything but Samoas.  

Well, my coworker came along today and somehow we were talking about Samoas, and she mentioned that they’re “now” called Caramel deLites.  So, having discovered this pertinent information last year, I of course mentioned that the names are regional.  Oh, no, she countered, the name was considered offensive and thus recently changed.  This sounded to me like an urban legend because “Samoa” and “Tagalong” sound like American Indian names and would have had to be changed due to conflict which suddenly surfaced in 2010.  Well, first of all, the language is Tagalog, not Tagalong, and I’ve not yet heard of any PC group of Samoans rebelling against the Girl Sprouts.  Sounds like there’d be a snopes entry about it…but it’s only mentioned in passing. 

I let it pass with my coworker, but you heard it here; I’m setting the record straight.

Some months ago, we were talking about the phenomenon of old sneakers being slung over telephone wires.  I had had this same discussion years ago with my sister, who insisted it was a way of drug dealers marking where they lived, or what their turf was.  Something like that.  Because I’m not afraid to oppose my sister, I challenged her, asking how, if the drug users were using the sneakers to find drug dealers, couldn’t the cops do the same exact thing?  After my coworker asserted that sneakers definitively marked drug dealers, I went home and put it to the snopes test, because it just didn’t make sense that some suburban kids would have figured this out before police caught on and shut them down.  Lo and behold – it’s one of those eternal urban mysteries. 

I guess I’m in pursuit of bigger fish that just winning an argument, especially if it means I would have to admit to doing research on Girl Scout cookies and old sneakers.  My brother likes to argue, but mostly he just loves to be right.  If he senses he’s about to lose the upper-hand, he resorts to the change-the-topic tactics of repeating one word or phrase over and over again.  Because you just can’t argue (and thus, win the discussion) with a man saying “Milkshake”.

As for me, I’m a tracker of the truth, a verifier of facts, and I mostly keep it to myself.  Or my husband, who will bolster me with affirming statements like, “Of course you were right!” and “How dare she think that!”  and “Why we just looked that up last night!”  Because when I’m not fixing the spelling on his blog posts, that’s what husbands are for.

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February 2010