The more I think about it, the more I understand those who find it difficult to learn our usage of the English language. Difficulties arise when words such as “right” and “write” sound alike but are spelled differently. Of course, you do not want to be “seen” making a “scene” in public.

Explain those and similar words to foreign visitors. A more serious approach beyond spelling is the use of a word with multiple meanings and interpreted in strange and wondrous fashions. As I understand it, American slang and idioms are most difficult for foreigners to categorize and learn to use properly.

At one time, I worked with a man who was a bit odd. His prior job was as a general handy man doing odd jobs. It is not that he was strange or odd but that he had an odd approach to work. If I asked him to do a task, the odds were that he would finish in record time. It was his odd practice not to bet on games of chance as the odds were against him.

This man refused promotions, as he preferred to be lead. Mostly, he stayed on the straight and narrow path so he would lead others. He moved so slowly I had to remind him constantly to get the lead out. However, I could not lead him into the path of righteousness.

Once I watched him trying to lift a heavy weight. I warned him not to break an arm or leg and suggested he take a break until help arrived. When he first applied for a job, I gave him a break just by hiring him.

Later he told me that his success was due to the break I had given him. After he picked up his paycheck, he would break speed records getting to the bank... He would not brake for little old ladies.

When he came to work one day, he was driving a muscle car. He smiled and said he liked to go fast. That day he came to work missing his lunch box. When I asked him, he said he was going to fast for a couple of days. He took his scarf and coat and made them fast to a hook on the wall.

He was one of those people who usually had a toothpick in his mouth. Although he used it to pick his teeth, he also used it as a spear to pick a slice of meat from a table platter.

He picked and saved food morsels for his prize dog that had been pick of the litter. Usually, my boss would pick him to be group leader for the day. Although he did not like the chore, he would pick the best workers that could use a pick and shovel.

Headquarters advised me the union was considering a strike that would shutdown the plant. Supervisors were advised not to strike any worker. The workers were prepared to live in tents for a while but received orders to strike their tents before nightfall.

The company representative issued a press release but made a mistake. He wanted to strike his first message and issue an updated status report.

Workers were asked if they would volunteer to set up tables and chairs for a meeting. Others were asked to set tables for a buffet lunch.

As employees went through the line, they would pick a set of utensils. In many cases, this meant that items would be set down before they continued. Supervisors were expected to set an example for the group.

Those selected would lay down their utensils. If there were incipient troubles, they could be expected to lay into the miscreants to stop incidents before they happened. Of course, this was after getting the lay of the land before trouble started. Employees carrying tools or weapons were advised to lay these implements into piles for later return.

If The Item has a proofreader, I fully expect this column to cause minimal head scratching. I know that writing it caused me to stop and scratch my head/cranium more than a few times.

If the proofreader did not show this weekend, the errors are all his/hers. If the column appears as it is, you know that I did my own proofreading.

At one time, I tried to count the number of “you knows” or “you know what I mean” used in an interview with a professional athlete. When the count reached thirteen in one minute, I gave up. Really, the seemingly innocuous question of “you know” is loaded with danger and potential misunderstanding.

More than once in my personal life, I responded and said, “No, I don’t know what you mean.” Many had a difficult time trying to explain what they really meant.

Grady Easley is retired from gainful employment and can be reached at

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