Perfect?

Sometimes, a common word that has been taken for granted becomes infected with a virus of misuse and caricature. It needs a champion. At this moment in history, there languishes one such word that pleads to be healed.

It’s the P word. No, not whatever P word just popped in to your mind, but the old, oft and over-used, misrepresented adjective known as perfect.

Perfect, according to the dictionary, means: without faults; complete and whole; ideal in every way; especially suitable or the ultimate degree of something, such as “a perfect nuisance” which, in my opinion, is what “perfect” has become.

When a kid gets a 100% score on a math test, that’s perfect. If the weather on the day of your garden wedding is twenty degrees, mainly sunny and the groom shows up voluntarily, that, too, could be considered perfect. Your newborn child? Perfect, at least to its parents.

I love words, how they sound, their texture, the way they taste in my mouth when I chew on them just before I send them out. Some of my favourite words are: Kilimanjaro, Valpolicella, Montepulciano and thanks to, Stephen King, “Cujo”. I find these words luscious. For a word connoisseur, discovering the, dare I say it, perfect word to fit a situation is extremely satisfying; however, being repeatedly confronted with the wrong word is absolutely stultifying.

When a word is wrongly used too often, it actually ceases to exist as its regular self. The nasty vocabulary virus causes it to lose meaning, no longer evoking any response, unless you count hissing. I am concerned that the arrogance and velocity of electronic communication has inspired a disdain for etymology in everyone under the age of thirty. I am particularly worried about perfect as it has been bastardized into an exclamatory phrase.

I sometimes visit a fitness-wear store with wonderful, comfy clothing and the perky staff to sell it. Whenever I need to try something on, I am ushered towards a change room and endure the following conversation:

“And what is your name so I can just write it on the door?”

I guess this question is supposed to make me feel like a star with my own dressing room. I am happy to be an anonymous shopper, but I play along.

“It’s Robin” I say.

“Perfect!”

There is no response to this so I don’t offer one.

“With an “i” or a “y”?” asks the happy sales teen.

“An ‘i’”.

“Perfect! And, how many items are we trying on today?”

I don’t know about her so I just answer for myself.

“Two,” I say.

“Perfect!”

Gag me with a yoga mat.

I’ve noticed that the imperfect perfect has also made its way into the hospitality industry. The hostess of a chic restaurant approaches and asks how many people are in my party.

“Four,” I say.

“Perfect!”

I could also say, “Four adults, one in a wheel-chair, three kids, two in strollers, plus you should know that we are all allergic to gluten” and she will respond, “Perfect!”

“No problem” would do the trick in this situation. Even better is a simple “please, follow me”, easy, polite and appropriate for the situation.

I pray that this insidious outbreak has not made its way into the funeral business.

“Would you prefer a simple pine or polished cherry wood casket for your dearly departed?” asks the solicitous funeral director.

“Actually, Grandpa wanted to be cremated.”

“Perfect.”

Due to electronic media, fewer folks actually speak to each other than ever before. People do business deals, make up, break up and have their deepest conversations (“deep” meaning five different types of emoticons in one email) on-line. Direct, person-to-person conversation is a dying art and words such as “perfect”, “whatever”, “really” and “seriously?” are helping to maintain a new social aloofness. How are we supposed to come together and save the planet when we can’t make ourselves understood?

Every evening, when I put my eight year-old son, H to bed, he asks for “the word of the night”, a tradition we have established that both broadens his vocabulary and tests my own. Lately, I have reverted to basic words and H rolls his eyes. “I know that one already, Mom”, he says. “I’ve known it for years!”

I just want to ensure that at least one future citizen of the world comprehends the correct meaning and usage of our essential language. Recently, I used “perfect” as the word of the night. After reminding me that he has known this word for practically his entire life, my son told me that it means, “Getting things just right” and I whole-heartedly agree. His definition made me think of the following story, an example of karmic perfection:

In the last couple of months, an enterprising Spanish woman took legitimate, legal steps to claim ownership of the sun. Apparently, there is an international agreement stating that no country can declare possession of any planet or other star out there in the universe, but nobody ever said anything about an individual not pronouncing ownership. So, this woman claimed the sun, and very pleased with her ingenuity, went on to announce that she intends to begin charging others for its use.

Al Gore recently sued this woman for being one of the reasons why global warming is on the rise. I hear she may receive a canyon-load of law-suits for skin cancer, sun-stroke and other illnesses caused by the biggest star.

Now, that’s perfect.

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