Tag Archives: airplane

Aviation restraint

A faithful and alert reader contacted me this week, suggesting we review the difference between “refrain” and “restrain.”

She had heard an awkward misuse over an airline intercom, a common medium for extemporaneous grammatical gaffes. Flight attendants’ scripts are pretty well vetted, but when attendants are left to their own wits, snickers can ensue. I know from experience, after hearing more than once that passengers should refrain from “conjugating in the aisles.”

Notice I said refrain, not restrain.

On her recent flight, the Word Nymph stringer and her fellow passengers were  told to “refrain yourself from leaving your seats.” My friend wanted this aired, reflexive pronoun-object mismatch aside.

Without looking it up, I knew that one refrains from doing something and that one restrains oneself or others, often from doing something. I knew that restrain requires an object. We restrain prisoners, dogs and ourselves, even airline passengers. Refrain requires no object. I’m not sure I could have explained why this is so.

Grammarians explain that restrain is a transitive verb, meaning it needs an object. We restrain something or someone. Refrain is intransitive; it requires no object.

Keeping within the airline setting, here’s how I’d remember it:

The flight attendant should refrain from speaking off script. She should restrain herself when tempted to ad lib.

If I had to choose, I’d rather a flight attendant be proficient in skills that I am not—emergency evacuation, in-flight firefighting, defibrillation, emergency landing, decompression emergencies and anti-terrorism—than in matters of grammar.

Besides, this frees me up to do what I do best–conjugating in the aisles (amo, amās, amat, amámus, mátis, amant)

(Shirley you can’t be serious…)


Filed under All Things Wordish, Travel

Speaking from the heart

It seems that lately, Mondays are difficult days on which to blog. I imagine they’re also difficult days on which to read blogs. So perhaps I’ve done us all a favor.

My excuse this week? I got in from a trip in the wee hours of Monday morning, after missing a connecting flight and being fortunate to have secured the last standby slot in the last flight back to Washington late Sunday. It was a grueling day following a lovely business-with-pleasure trip, so I tried to keep my spirits high.

Sure, I shot dirty looks to a young mother who smacked her infant for squealing in a gate area. I sighed audibly and walked away when I overheard a couple engaging in senseless political rants. I even snapped just a bit at a gate agent, but later thanked her warmly when she found me that last seat on the plane back home.

That last seat happened to be beside a woman whose husband was in another row. When she asked if I might be willing trade my aisle seat for her husband’s middle seat so they could sit together, I obliged.

I was glad I did. The conversation I had with a gentleman in my row turned out to be so enjoyable that it made nearly three hours pass in a flash. We discovered much in common, including that we both think a lot about words.

He shared that he is making a concerted effort to avoid beginning sentences with “but;” not so much as a matter of grammar, but as a matter of harmony. “But” can erect a wall in a conversation. It can minimize someone else’s point. I found that interesting.

Then he shared a challenge that had been on his mind. I am not sure if he’ll ever read this and, if so, I hope he won’t mind my putting his dilemma out for discussion.

 His stepdaughter is getting married soon and has asked him to give her away, in place of her late father. This man will undoubtedly be called upon, formally or informally, to speak about his role at this occasion, and he wants to have just the right words at hand.

My fellow passenger never met his stepdaughter’s father, but thinks that, based on what he knows of the man, that they might have been good friends. There were even some interesting coincidences. I got the sense he is honored to be asked to step into the role.

I told him about How to Say It, a book that suggests the right words for almost any occasion. I suggested that he simply speak from his heart, express his affection for his stepdaughter and go from there.  I had told him that I have a wide circle of creative and sensitive readers, from whom I learn much nearly every day. While we didn’t exchange contact information, I did give him my blog address.

Based on knowing him for three hours, I have no doubt that John Q. Passenger could speak from his heart quite beautifully on this occasion. Still, I’d love to help him out.

So, on the off chance he finds his way here (and provided he didn’t give up after seeing no post yesterday), may I ask you to share your advice about what he might say, in conversation or perhaps in a toast during the wedding festivities—again, as the stepfather of the bride, who has the honor of walking her down the aisle?

I know you’ll have some good ideas.  Thanks!


Filed under All Things Wordish, Travel

Plane folks

Do you think airlines intentionally seat well-known people beside people who don’t know them? Sometimes I wonder.

I don’t think this is the case with politicians. I’ve been seated beside former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, former Ohio Senator Howard Metzenbaum and current Texas Congressman Lamar Smith and I knew them all. There’ve been more, but these are the ones who made memorable impressions.

Many years ago, I was making chitchat with my neighbor on a flight from Dallas to Washington. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked what took him to Washington.

“I have some interviews,” he said.

I asked, “Job interviews?”

“Press interviews.” He went on, “I wrote a book.”

“Oh, what’s it called”?

Run, Bullet, Run.”

“What’s it about?”

‘It’s about football.”

When I got home I told my husband I met a man, and something about a football book, bullet something.

My husband gasped. “You met Bullet Bob Hayes?” Only a two-time Olympic Gold medalist, Super Bowl winner and once considered the fastest human being on the planet.

By the way, I still don’t know what hockey legend I met in an airport in April.

Now that I’m a more seasoned traveler, I rarely take airplane conversations past the hello half-smile as I am squeezing into the seat and reaching under my neighbor’s cheek for my seatbelt.

Yesterday I walked into it again. Just a little.

About midway into the flight, after she and I rolled our eyes at each other over some boisterous passengers behind us, my neighbor thanked me for having been quiet during the ride.

We started talking, I asked what took her to the cities she was visiting and she said she was a musician.

Later in the conversation (which she probably regretted starting), I mentioned I wrote a blog. She asked the usual, what do you write about, I said language and life, and then somewhere in there I said I enjoyed writing about song lyrics.

She said she enjoys writing song lyrics and she shared how she approaches putting her lyrics with the music she writes. She shared with me some of her language peeves and gave me some ideas for future blog posts.

She was lovely and I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a plane chat more. I hope she felt the same.

She gave me the name of her group and I gave her the name of my blog.

You may have noticed Word Nymph typically doesn’t mention people by name. I will say I had never heard of my neighbor and chances are you haven’t either. Maybe one day we all will. Perhaps she’ll read my blog and introduce herself by way of a comment.

Granted, in my opening I mentioned four people by name. That’s all right because they’re famous and three of them are dead.  Now if they comment…

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Filed under Foibles and Faux Pas, Music, Reading, Sports and Recreation, Technology and Social Media, Travel

It’s time

This week I have been spending a fair amount of time in the air. 

I don’t travel as often as George Clooney in Up in the Air but, like George’s character, I am robotic in my process.  I go through security like a zombie—that’s the best way to do it, actually—and seldom get rattled.  I often rent cars on the other end and that too has become rhythmic.

I don’t even travel as often as many of my colleagues.  I have one client who flies out of Philly so often she’s been offered the airport employees’ discount at Auntie Anne’s.

Erma Bombeck wrote a popular book entitled, When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home.

While, sadly, I haven’t used my passport in quite some time, Erma’s book title swooshes through my head during some of my busiest domestic travel weeks.  In fact, during time spent recently in a boarding area (no, not that time), I drew up a list of it’s-time-to-go-home triggers.

It’s time to go home when:

  • you check the Departures monitor for your gate and have to look at your boarding pass to remember where you are going
  • you and the US Airways flight attendants recognize each other–and smile fondly
  • you use your travel toiletries more than the ones at home
  • you sit down in a restaurant and look for the seat belt
  • you achieve frequent shopper status at Taxco Sterling and HMS Newsstand (and Auntie Anne’s).  The woman at the Taxco counter at National Airport knows which pieces I already have.
  • you spot the same set of identically dressed adult twins twice (not yet, but it’s bound to happen!)

How about you?  When is it time for you to go home?

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Filed under Foibles and Faux Pas, Food, Movies, Television and Radio, Travel

Joined at the unbelted waist

If ever I was tempted to ask a stranger’s permission to snap a photograph, it was yesterday morning.  I still regret not doing so.  Definitely my loss–and yours. 

I had just taken a seat on the shuttle bus to an early plane when I saw a tall, well-dressed man boarding the bus.  I looked down for a split second, looked up and saw him getting on the bus, again.  Déjà vu?  I rubbed my eyes and shook my head and wished for a second cup of coffee.

I got on the plane and found my seat. 

I saw the same man, I’d say he was between 45 and 50 years old, walking down the aisle.  He was tall, wore a very good charcoal micro-plaid suit, a starched white shirt, gold cufflinks, odd-looking large-framed glasses and a bright red silk tie with a windowpane design and yellow accents.

Right behind him was another man, between 45 and 50.  He was tall, wore a very good charcoal micro-plaid suit, a starched white shirt, gold cufflinks, odd-looking large-framed glasses and a bright red silk tie with a windowpane design and yellow accents.

The two men found their seats across the aisle and one row back from me, but before they sat side by side, each took off his suit coat.  I confirmed the identical designer suits, shirts, ties, cufflinks, pocket squares, glasses, shoes and haircuts.  I strained my neck trying to compare the monograms on their identical French cuffs.

They had identical faces.  They were 45-year-old identical twins.  Dressed identically.

Then, as the suit coats came off, I saw that one was wearing red suspenders and the other, yellow.  Clearly, they were expressing their individuality.  In identical ways.

The plane took off.  As I looked over my shoulder, I was almost willing to risk air safety and turn on my camera phone, just to capture it—two oversized men, seated tightly side by side in Row 6 of a puddle jumper, impeccably and identically dressed, discussing college baseball.  And then, at exactly the same time, they fell asleep, their heads dipped forward, chins resting on their identical red silk ties.

Oh, to know their story.

The only clue they provided — each carried on board a paper shopping bag.  One from Brooks Brothers, the other, from the Supreme Court gift shop.


Filed under Beauty and Fashion, Foibles and Faux Pas, Travel