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Driver's Seat
Under the bridge? Or over the dam?
Article published on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004
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Ethel thought she loved Sam. She had known him six months, and was almost ready to marry him. Then one day Sam used the expression, “That’s water over the dam.” At that point, Ethel knew their romance was doomed. She walked out of Sam’s life.

The reason: Ethel was a “water under the bridge” person. She had heard the phrase as a child, and had grown to love it. It fit her personality. She was a serene woman, even-tempered, convinced that life could be orderly. She saw life’s events as mostly smooth, flowing underneath a covered bridge she had once seen near New Fane, Vt.

However, by age 20 she had encountered a number of people who said “water over the dam.” She quickly learned that they were different. Not really evil, but inclined to be dramatic, tempestuous, the sort of person who would berate waiters for small oversights. Persons who said “water over the dam” viewed life as uncertain, filled with unexpected frights as well as welcome surprises. Ethel concluded that bridge and dam persons possessed built-in, irreversible conflicts with each other.

If you think Ethel was crazy, perhaps you should check it out for yourself. During the next few months (or it could take years), listen to your friends and acquaintances. Wait for them to say “water under the bridge,” or “over the dam.” Analyze their personalities. Then let me know what you think. My

e-mail address is I’ll compile the stats and let you know the results. If we all live that long.

The bridge vs. dam syndrome is only one example of how you can read people by the expressions they use. Here’s another: You should never trust a brain surgeon who says “whatever” to fill out his sentences. “Your operation may reveal a tumor, an aneurysm, or whatever.” If he/she says that to you, find another brain surgeon. The use of “whatever,” rather than specific names or facts, reveals hazy thinking. That’s not the kind of physician you want to turn your cerebellum over to.

In earlier columns I’ve warned against trusting direction-givers who say, “You can’t miss it” when they’re telling you how to find a certain place, such as the mosque in Clearwater. Anyone who says “You can’t miss it” is full of Berber couscous. Don’t listen to him.

I’ve structured much of my life on avoiding people who use the effete expressions “If you will” and “As it were.” I once had to listen to an advertising executive make a sales pitch in which he said “If you will” 17 times. He was later arrested near an Army base for invading a private.

Finally, steer clear of anyone who speaks of “moving things to the next level.”

He’s out to screw you, for sure. Tell him to go find himself an elevator or a forklift.

“There’s one out by the loading dock, as it were. If you will.”
Article published on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004
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