The Corner

Culture

Wait for It

A traffic jam in Cambridge, England, on a warm spring day (Jay Nordlinger)

Today, I have an “England Journal,” mostly concerning London, the capital, but with a dash of Cambridge thrown in. The journal has observations on habits, language, history, and the like. There are also photos, at no extra charge.

Here on the Corner, I’d like to publish a note about language. First, though, the background.

A few weeks ago, I recorded a podcast with Donald Kagan, the eminent historian. He spoke of a professor he had at Brooklyn College — a no-nonsense woman. If a student began an answer hesitantly, saying, “Well . . . ,” she would say, “It is not well.” I told Professor Kagan that I was reminded of my Sunday School students (and others), who routinely begin sentences with “Like . . .” I’ll tease them about this from time to time.

In London, I was speaking with an old friend of mine, who mentioned a teacher of hers, long ago. This was in the ’40s or ’50s. If you said, “Well . . . ,” the teacher would break in, “A well? Where? I don’t see a well, do you?”

Well (!), here is a note from a reader:

I am a teacher, mainly of middle-schoolers. The most common verbal pause when I call on students these days is no longer “like” but “wait.” As in “wait a minute while I collect my thoughts.” I am sadly addicted to puns, so when a student says “wait” after I call on him, I sometimes answer, “240 pounds, but I’m on a diet.”

In this journal of mine, I mention some climate-change protests in London, which snarled traffic for days. (It may still be going on.) Emma Thompson, the (great) actress, flew in from America to take part in these protests. I happen to know from experience that she is a woman with a lot of charm (whatever one may think of her political views). A reporter asked her about her use of airplanes. She said she was flying less, planting trees, etc. — cutting down on her carbon footprint. The reporter also asked, “Do you fly economy?” She answered, “I bloody don’t, no!”

It is currently my favorite video on the Internet (here).

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