My parents were sticklers when it came to teaching us proper speech. I look forward to sharing more examples later, but one particular lesson comes to mind today.
One approach my father took in teaching life lessons was to warn me about certain behaviors and then say, “Don’t ever do that.” For example, before I began learning how to drive, he once said, “notice how some drivers make a turn and go immediately into the middle lane. Don’t ever do that.” Instead, he instructed, turn into the closest lane and then change lanes gradually. Even though at the time I didn’t have any personal context, I came to see that he was right; plenty of drivers make these sloppy and dangerous turns. And I don’t ever do that.
Another time, he warned me that some people say “wait on,” when they mean “wait for.”
I had never heard anyone say “wait on” in any way except correctly. My father assured me that someday I’d hear someone ask, “what are you waiting on?” and, when I did, he wanted to be sure I didn’t repeat it. It might be a regional thing, he said; still, “Don’t ever do that.”
I listened for it but it was years before I noticed anyone saying “wait on” in lieu of “wait for.” I was in the car with my new fiancé, behind another car at a stop light. The light turned green. The car in front of us didn’t move. My then-fiancé honked the horn, stuck his head out the window and shouted, “What are ya waitin’ on?” The moment about which my father warned me had come.
Let’s just remember that to wait for is to await or expect someone or something. To wait on is to serve, as a waiter waits on a restaurant patron. Unfortunately, to wait on is still misused quite often.
John Mayer is “Waiting on the world to change,” as 30 years ago, Mick Jagger was “Waiting on a friend.” It could be that the friend was laid up and needed waiting on.
Just this month, we read the following in sports headlines:
- David Lee Waiting on LeBron
- Brett Favre Waiting on Ankle to Heal
- Waiting on Kovalchuk: Why Steve Yzerman should trade for Simon Gagne
Perhaps it’s one of those errors that, having gone colloquial, will in time be condoned by official sources. That doesn’t appear to have happened yet, thank goodness.
Is it too late to turn the tide? Or is it worth putting out a reminder and a tip for keeping it straight?
Maybe we can think about the Samuel Beckett play, “Waiting for Godot,” the title of which has become colloquial itself.
We recall that, in the play, the two main characters are waiting for a third, named Godot, who never comes. The expression “waiting for Godot” has come to mean waiting for something that will never happen, or is futile. I certainly hope by expecting to turn the tide, we are not waiting for Godot.
Or do we just simply reprimand ourselves, or our friends who ask “what are you waiting on?” “Don’t ever do that.”