Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Knowledge is Power

As my self-granted title of BookWench would indicate, I am well aware that I am not always the nicest, most patient person in the world. According to my family I have inherited what's lovingly referred to as The Bitch Gene. It's generally given to various outspoken, strong-willed, temperamental women in our family. It's a mark of pride there, but out in the real world it tends to cause some issues.

One of the major problems it causes for me in retail work is that I don't suffer fools for very long. And I don't appreciate being spoken to like I'm an idiot, especially since it's coming from people who need my help because they've never heard of the book Huckleberry Finn and have no idea where we would keep it. Since I'm not allowed to physically hurt people because of fear of legal prosecution, I'm forced to rely on beating them down with superior intelligence.

My favorite tactic, and one that several of my well-educated co-workers employ as well, is to use unnecessarily large words to answer questions or glean more information from the customer. One of our go-to favorites is asking a customer if the flowery sounding self-help title they're looking for is of a secular or non-secular bent.* That invariably ends with a confused look and a quiet request for definitions for the big scary words we've just used.

Another favorite of mine is the word colloquialism. This one usually comes up when someone asks for a translation of Mark Twain, or Shakespeare, or anything else written more than 10 years ago that doesn't pander to lowest common denominator. This question annoys/ angers me on so many levels that I'm fairly certain one day hate lasers will actually come out of my eyes because of it. So, to calm the rage monster, I explain that you cannot, in fact, translate English to English, and the only thing that really changes (especially from Twain) are the colloquialisms of the time. I don't know if it's the palpable rage, or the big scary word, but that usually shuts people up.

Another favorite trick is proper pronunciation. If you come up to me and ask me a question in a condescending way while mispronouncing the title or author you're looking for, I will proceed to correct your pronunciation as often as I can during the course of our interaction. You want Goethe's Faust? Did you talk to me as if I'm a three year old? I will be shoving the proper German pronunciation down your throat until you choke on it. (Again, I am aware that I am sometimes very mean. At least I've stopped throwing large appliances at people. And, yes, I'm being serious.)

Finally, the intellectual pissing contest reaches a peak with books with the same title. Most of the time it's some smug dude asking for The Art of War, who often feel the need to preface the question by calling me sweetie. This is NEVER a good idea with me, as there's no way to say it to an adult stranger without sounding patronizing. So my response is always “Sun-Tzu or Machiavelli?” I know they want the Sun-Tzu, as very few people are aware that Machiavelli wrote one as well. Moreover, since most people looking for the Art of War have no idea what it actually is, or who wrote it, they tend to freeze because they have no idea which one they want. All they know is that they think they will look both intelligent and manly by reading it. Having read it, I can guarantee that 98% of the people I've sold that book to will not make it past the chapter about the most strategic placement of your horses in relation to your archers.

Just remember – just because we work in retail doesn't mean we're stupid. (Some of us are, don't get me wrong. I work with a handful of mental midgets right now who would be confused by this post. In fact, one of them used the word “currenter” today when describing the age of textbooks.) So before you assume that you're asking one of the idiots a question bear in mind that fear of jail time is all that's keeping the smart ones from causing you bodily harm.

*If Arrested Development taught us nothing else they taught us the difference between secular and non-secular (“Meet the Veals”)...and that chickens don't clap.

BookWench is currently reading Mad Queens and Kings by Alison Rattle and Allison Vale, because insane people with ultimate power are always an entertaining read.


  1. It's true that there are a few strong willed women in this family & I happen to be married to the "lead the fleet" one. Sweetiie, I mean Mitch, you are certainly in the mold.

  2. Perhaps, given your staggering intellect, you would like to correct the subject verb agreement error in this post ? ;)

  3. I could swear I heard chickens clapping as I read this post.