U.S.A. English

by Joel on January 27, 2008

With these two personal life experiences, is it any wonder that human beings sometimes misunderstand each other?

Some years back, I had landed at Dallas Love Field to board a plane headed for Oklahoma City. The departure signs as well as the sign at the boarding gate gave the scheduled departure time and read “on-time.” Twenty or thirty mintutes after the scheduled departure, our plane still hadn’t arrived. Some of us asked the agent what was going on. He replied, “your plane was delayed taking off and will be here in about an hour.” Then someone asked, “Then why do all the signs indicate the departure will be on time?” The agent, with a truly straight face, replied, because we haven’t been officially notifed by the airline that the plane is delayed. We learned it unofficially through the crew.” Someone else asked, then why not at least take down the “on-time sign” and leave it blank. Then when people ask, you can explain. “No, we can’t do that,” the answer came back. “We are required to list something, and we can only list the scheduled departure time unless we have benn officially notified of a new departure time.” Comes another voice, “So you know the plane is late but you have to keep the posting indicating it is on time.” “Yes,” replied the agent, but if anyone stops at the boarding desk, we can tell them the plane will be here in about an hour. I no longer remember the name of the airline.

And then recently, I ordered a package to be shipped via United Parcel Service. I received a confirmation e-mail from UPS and clicked on the tracking info for the scheduled day of arrival. The notice indicated the package was on-time. But it wasn’t delivered on that day, a Friday, but on the next Monday. I asked, “Why does the tracking notice indicate on-time when it was delivered late?” Answer from UPS: “It was routed on time from Phoenix to Albuquerque to Oklahoma City. But the Oklahoma City crew neglected to get it loaded on the delivery truck for your route.” “OK,” I replied, “We all make mistakes. But why not list that the package was delayed due to failure to load it on the delivery truck?” The answer from UPS: “Because it arrived on-time at the final distribution center.” I’ve gotten good service through UPS, but I can’t resist mocking how they categorized my shipment.

Finally, one from Federal Express. I was to receive an overnight package. It had my correct address, and, being a rural area not yet assigned a 9-1-1 street number was a rural route. The lady who took the order said it would be helpful if, in addition to giving the rural route number that I also gave what street and town I physically resided in. I told her, very carefully, that I lived in an incorporated town, West Siloam Springs, Oklahoma (in Delaware County) that had no post office and received its mail through Watts, Oklahoma (in Adair County). The package didn’t arrive. I called Federal Express. They told me the package was undeliverable because there was no such town as West Siloam Springs with a zip code of 74964. I replied, “Of course not, because we don’t have a post office.” The north part of West Siloam Springs gets its mail through Colcord, OK and the south part, where I live, through Watts and its zip code is 74964.” I was patting myself on the back for giving a clear answer. However, she replied, “You are mistaken, sir. All incorporated towns have post offices.” I replied, “Well, they must not. We are an incorporated town with a mayor and town council, police department and fire department, but we don’t have a post office.” “Well,” she said, “in that case you shoudn’t have given me the name of West Siloam Springs.” My overall experience with FedEx has also been good.

You think you see three experiences listed above? Send me an e-mail for jtb21967ataoldotcom and I’ll tell you where your thinking went wrong.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }


Richard 01.27.08 at 7:40 am

Interesting post. Did you know that on British railways, a train that is 5 minutes late is on time? It isn’t late until it is ten minutes late.


Jan 01.27.08 at 9:24 pm


Down here in Sydney, trains can be five minutes late or early and are still considered on time.


Joel 01.27.08 at 11:58 pm

OK, Richard and/or Jan, if my UPS package were scheduled for delivery at 3:25 pm on Friday and it arrived at 3:20 or 3:30, I’d gladly be willing to describe it as on time. Of course I do realize that if people are headed to work or an appointment they might be fairly particular.


Richard 01.28.08 at 9:20 am

Quite so, Joel, but we have different expectations of trains than we do of parcels. In Britain at least, it is difficult to persuade a delivery company to be more specific than “between 8 and 1″ and often they can’t even be that specific. But the train timetable is very specific. If if says it’ll arrive at 18:52 and then wheezes in at 19:01, that’s late in my book.

I’m still puzzled about why there’s 2 experiences not 3 in your post, but I’ll scratch my head a bit longer before I beg for an explanation. :)


Joel 01.28.08 at 5:42 pm


But you don’t know what are in my parcels!!! ;-)

OK, no one needs to e-mail me. If other can define plain English into gibberish, so may I. Since I couldn’t remember the name of the airline, the experience there isn’t complete. Only complete experiences count.

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