No, that’s not my car. I don’t actually own a car, because I don’t need one and I increasingly hate them. They’re a junk technology: vastly complex and expensive, constantly teetering on the edge of the catastrophe curve both when driven (obviously) and when parked (when they require frequent maintenance to remain usable). That you do basically have to have a car if you don’t live in a city is a failure of societal imagination.
So cars are 20th Century bullshit, except when you actually can’t get somewhere any other way. Which was me yesterday (rail strike) trying to get somewhere I really needed to be, with a car which I rented which went fine for twenty minutes and then blarted out a series of warning messages, red lights and blah blah blah, and I pulled over and it turned out my rental was toast. Just… splat.
I called the rental people and they were terrible. Perfectly nice as humans, but the corporate script was the worst I’ve ever seen. No, we cannot get you a new car from one of our locations less than ten minutes’ walk away, you must stay with your old car for five hours while we get you a rescue truck.
Anyway, that’s not the point. It’s crap, and hey, late stage Capitalism is awful. The point is the word that inevitably is deployed in this situation as part of the #TuringFail script some poor CS agent is required to stay with while you try to get them to acknowledge the insanity of the company that underpays them, which they are underpaid not to do because late stage Capitalism.
(Late stage Capitalism is stupid and bad. Did I make that clear? Entities operating under its dominion compromise their core competence in search of savings in an effort to obviate the need to provide a service at all. The unacknowledged endgame of almost all of these companies - of which I think many of them are at most peripherally aware themselves - is to become huge bank accounts which no longer need to perform an actual function. If they could operate by just moving money around and extracting interest, that would be ideal. That is, after all, the purest form of moneymaking: making more money out of money. It’s also essentially viral; there’s no recognition of the need to provide benefit to your host, which makes it ultimately parasitic.
Whoooooa digression. Hi, my name’s Nick, I do not stick to the point. At all.)
That’s the word I kept coming back to. In the English-speaking world, “kindly” is emphasised in customer-facing communication all the time, and almost always in the wrong place in a sentence. “We kindly ask customers to refrain from setting furniture on fire.”
Do you really? How is this kindness evidenced?
“We kindly ask that you refrain from talking during the performance.”
Again I want to know how this kindness of yours inheres in your request. Is it that you’re asking kindly right now and I don’t want to see you when you’re angry?
I knew the answer, but it took - inevitably - a Swiss German train announcer to get me to see it the way it is: this is about split infinitives and why avoiding them so damn much gets you into trouble. The train announcement placed the word in the right location in the sentence, with just the right level of deliberation to trigger my brain:
“We ask passengers kindly to take a seat as the train will now depart.”
Yep. “Kindly to take a seat.” That is the correct construction. It is the customer’s act that is done “kindly” and indeed as a favour - in the polite fiction of the relationship - to the train guard. Because people are so desperate (as a consequence of an attempt to ape Germanic sentence construction, by the way, where infinitives often come as a single word) to avoid splitting “to” from “take”, we get the idea that the kindness is in the asking, and it ultimately ends up as we “we kindly ask” which is nonsensical but now commonplace. Would “we ask you to kindly take a seat” have been so bad? No. No, it would not. DAMN YOU, ALFORD.
Interestingly - or not, it sort of depends whether you’re still reading - although the common version has a hint of threat about it, an actual threatening mode tends to restore the natural order. “Kindly take a seat!” is clearly a warning that you’re about to get yourself de-planed and possibly TikTok famous, and no one at that point bothers with “I would kindly ask you to take a seat!”
Anyway, I didn’t get where I was going yesterday, which was a little bit awful, but I suppose I had time to think about all this.
Except the digressions about late stage Capitalism and cars. Those are new.
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- I went without a car for two years in Swissland. Came back to the UK and had to buy one within a week. Return bus trip only once an hour at greater cost than a Zurich 24hr travel pass, with no service after 6:30pm.
- What's great about Swiss train guards - at least on the IC routes - is that they'll repeat the same announcement in two or three other languages. This gives you the chance to see how infinitely split and concatenately condensed each language is. A mini-duopingo session for (sort of) free.