A child’s perspective is an amusing thing. Children think that if they can see a thing, then you can see a thing; and if they imagine a thing, well then, you certainly “see” it, too. I have noticed a tendency among my post-60 peers to revert to this same perspective. More than a few constantly use pronouns when a noun is called for because they have that childish perspective that I know what it, he, them, that, that thing, or any other pronoun or combination thereof refers to.
People: Use some antecedents, which as you’ll recall from 6th Grade English is the noun to which a pronoun refers. Otherwise, your listener might not have a clue what you’re talking about.
For example, I’ll be driving down the road and my peer of a passenger will say something like, “Huh. Do you see that?”
I look over thinking that “that” must be something obvious—a flaming car, a side-of-the-road fistfight, the Great Wallenda wire-walking from the top of Texas Road House all the way to Target, but I see none of these things.
“Did I see what?”
“The guy in the parking lot over there has on the same pants you do.”
When you do not use an antecedent to antecede whatever it is you are talking about, you give license to MY imagination. Here I’m thinking that I’m going to see the Great Wallenda, when it’s just some doofus, albeit, one wearing sharp-looking pants. I want to explain the need for an antecedent, but simply answer, “No. No, I did not see that.” At least, however, my passenger attempted to give me a visual clue, although not a very specific one.
Familiarity can exacerbate this problem; thus, the correlation exists that the longer a couple is married, the fewer antecedents are used. Not only do spouses tend not to use antecedents with one another, but Spouse 1 will often begin a conversation from a room in which Spouse 2 is not. In fact, Spouse 2 is usually upstairs or downstairs or anywhere but in the vicinity of Spouse 1.
For example, a disembodied, but familiar voice recently rang out from the kitchen, “Hey! Is this dirty?”
And I, being upstairs, am left to guess: She can’t be talking about my mind because she already knows the answer to that question . . . Butter knife? ‘Cause, you know, we all dip the butter knife in the jelly jar and then balance it on the kitchen counter with the blade end hanging over the sink so as to not touch anything, which would make it germy. This way, the knife can be used a second time before being placed in the dishwasher and of such small victories . . . Dishwasher?
“Are you talking about the dishwasher?”
“Yes, I’m talking about the dishwasher,” replied the disembodied voice, sounding somewhat annoyed.
I know that there are magnets one can buy indicating whether the dishwasher is clean or dirty, but ultimately, that doesn’t fix the problem, that just changes the subject category. The conversation would remain essentially the same.
“Did you flip this thing?”
“I’m upstairs! Are you talking to me?
“YEAH! Did you flip this thing?”
“Did I skip your ring?”
“NO! Did you flip the thing?”
“Are we having pancakes?”
See? If you want to reduce the overall levels of stress and improve communication throughout the land, please review your 6th Grade grammar book and learn all about antecedents. Use them, use them well, use them often. They are your friends.
Or, at least wait until you’re in the same room with the person to whom you are speaking so you can point.