The Writing Life

I like words. Can you be a writer and not like words? Probably not. Lots of times when I walk around DC, which I do for exercise, I see curious words and phrases. In the last few weeks:

Hyman Restoration. Yes, the name of a company which does historic renovation. He, or she, or them, are working on an embassy close to my apartment. I don’t want to sound more juvenile than I am but how would you answer the phone at that company and not come close to laughing every time?

“Sandwishes to go.” A sign on a cafe on 14th Street. Unfortunately it is being renovated and last time I walked passed, the sign was gone.

“We rent carpet cleaners.” A sign in the window of a hardware store on P Street in Washington. Great. I wanted to go in and say:

“I have a carpet cleaner I would like to rent to you.”


“No, we rent carpet cleaners.”

“Yes, I know you do. That’s why I’m here. To rent you my carpet cleaner.”

Perhaps I should have just gone in and said, “Excuse me, may I change your sign to read, ‘carpet cleaners for rent.'” But I didn’t.

Finally, I was listening to the radio last week. The local news came on. “We have a fire situation at such and such an intersection. A house is on fire and we will bring you constant updates on this fire situation.” Why add situation? It’s a fire. That same week, on the same station, there was a “possible shooting situation,” which became a “shots fired situation,” which eventually became “a possible hostage situation with shots fired,” which finally became, “in a standoff situation, the police shot the gunman five times and killed him.” Something very close to those words. At least they didn’t say, “we have a person killed situation.”

In recent years, I have noticed that people seem to add the word situation more and more to what they are describing – especially when something is screwed up. Last year, while waiting for a US Air flight in Charleston, it seemed that, “an oversold situation has developed.” Notice the passive voice. Sort of cool. It isn’t anyone’s fault, certainly not the airline company’s. “An oversold situation has developed” is passed off as something like “a hurricane has developed.” However, we were assured by the gate agent that, “all of our valued customers (which means some weren’t valued) will be accommodated and re-accommodated.” I guess the latter was in the case one wasn’t accommodated in a satisfactory way the first time.

[Image courtesy of RA Hyman Restoration, Inc.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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