Waiting on Godot

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.”


Filed under All Things Wordish, Family and Friends, Music, Sports and Recreation

5 responses to “Waiting on Godot

  1. Sharon

    With respect to reprimanding friends who use incorrect speech, what is your policy with respect to correcting the bloggers you recommend we follow when you notice a significant error (not a typo)?
    For instance, one of your favorites recently referred to a television character as a “milk toast” character when she undoubtedly meant “milquetoast.” (I know that the latter derives from the former, but the usage is still incorrect.) The blogger does not claim to be writing a language blog-would it have been rude to post a correction as a comment? Did you notice the error?

    • I tend to be forgiving when it comes to comments posted, because I do not want to discourage dialogue. You are correct that people who comment do not claim to be experts; they merely enjoy engaging in the dialogue. My goal is to endender interaction and for everyone to have fun in the process. But you should feel free to jump in, even if that includes setting others straight in a light-hearted manner.

      • Oh, I also see now you were referring to those bloggers I follow. As with my earlier reply, as some bloggers I follow are not language bloggers whom I might be following for other reasons, such as for entertainment, I refrain from correcting. But again, feel free.

  2. Linda Nordenberg

    Though your focus is on words, you’ve already addressed the use of quotes. Are commas on the horizon too? I’d be very interested. I’m of the school that says less is better. But I work with a colleague more attuned to the more the merrier. Perhaps you can help us converge.

    I love your blog, your humor, your insights!!

    Applause! Applause! Linda

    • Thanks for your kind words and for your interest in the topic. Early on I talked about the Oxford Comma. That’s a tough one because the major style guides are not in agreement on that matter. While I recently made the choice to avoid the Oxford comma, for all other commas decisions I exercise some personal discretion. That is, of course, with the exception of the nonrestrictive clause, about which the rules are pretty clear. Do you have a particular comma peeve?

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