Monday, June 22, 2015

"Selective Nitpickerary"

I wrote years ago about being unpleasantly bombarded – Is there any other way of being bombarded? – by a person who insisted on the specificity of the name of a particular agency of the United States government.

“You know,” he said, slowly gathering steam, “It is not the National Institute of Health.  It’s the National Institutes of Health.”

“I did not know that,” I responded.

“A lot of people think it’s the National Institute of Health.  But they’re wrong.”

“I see.”

“It’s the National Institutes of Health.”


“It’s the plural.  Not the singular.


“Institutes.  Not institute.” 



“A lot of people don’t know that.”


“They think it’s the National Institute of Health.”

“And it isn’t.”

“No.  It’s the National Institutes of Health.” 


“How can people be so ignorant?  They think it’s the National Institute of Health.
When it’s really the National Institutes of Health!” 

This went on for about five minutes.  All the time I’m trying to make it clear that message has been satisfactorily been received.  The man does not care that the message has been satisfactorily received.  He keeps plowing straight ahead.

“It is not the National Institute of Health.  It’s the National Institutes of Health.”

The plural.  Not the singular.

To me, this nitpickerous obsession seemed really crazy, because…

What the heck does it matter?

I mean, it is not like it’s important, or anything.  That is hardly essential information, like, say…


You probably know this already.  I’m just using it as a contrast – something that doesn’t matter versus something that does. 

The twenty-second President of the United States looks exactly the same as the twenty-fourth President of the United States.   You know why?  You probably do.

Because they are the exactly same person. 

Grover Cleveland. 

(So there is no reason they would look differently.  It would be surprising if they did, like, “What happened to that guy!”  “The same” is precisely what you expect the same person to look like.  {Transgenders excepted.}  All right.  I may be beating a dead horse here.)

Grover Cleveland has the distinction of being the only president to serve non-consecutive terms.  Cleveland was president in 1884, and after losing in 1888, he became president again in 1892.

That is all well and good.  He won, then he lost, then he won again.  Fine.

The thing is – and this drives me absolutely bonkers…

Although Grover Cleveland is one person,

He is always counted as two presidents.

How many presidents have we had?


Wrong!   We have only had forty-three presidents.  One of them just happened to serve non-consecutive terms.  Is that any reason we should count the man as two presidents?

Two presidencies?  Of course.  But we are not talking about presidencies.  We are talking about presidents.  Grover Cleveland was definitely the president, but he was definitely not two presidents.

1892, the man’s re-elected.  The White House staff goes, “Welcome back, Mr. President.”  Why did they say that?  Not because he was a different president, but because he was the same president, coming back!

I just don’t understand it.  Why would you count the same person as two presidents?

George Washington –“The Father of our Country.”  Is he counted as two presidents? 


Lincoln – freed the slaves and bound up the wounds of a nation.  Is he counted as two presidents? 


FDR – The man served four terms, for heaven’s sake.  Is he counted as four presidents? 


But a historical mediocrity like Grover Cleveland?  He gets to be counted as two presidents.

That’s crazy, isn’t it?

A lot of people think there have been forty-forty presidents.  But they’re wrong.

There have only been forty-three presidents. 

A lot of people don’t know that.  They think there have been forty-four presidents.  But there haven’t been.  There have only been forty-three presidents.

Forty-three.  Not forty-four.

How people can be so ignorant?  Believing that there have been forty-four presidents.  When in truth, there have only been forty-three presidents.

Now, you see there?

That’s something to get riled up about.

1 comment:

JED said...

This post is one of the reasons I like your blog so much, Earl. By gently showing how you examine your own life in light of what you observe in others, you encourage me to do the same thing.

I know people exactly like the person you write about at the beginning of this article. Then after you switch to yourself, it's like a lever tipping me over into looking at myself. I do go on too long about how other people can't drive and don't know how to park correctly (my son has even written a short song about my rants on this subject). Then, of course once the pointer is in my direction, the next question is, "What else about me needs a little examination?"

It reminds me of the time the minister of our church started his sermon with, "Now, this is one of those sermons where you'll say you wish a certain person you know was here to hear the message. Or maybe that person is here - in your seat."

Your blog is always good , Earl, but it can sometimes be difficult, too.