Quietly mailing it in

By Joe Diorio

September 12, 2022 – Joe H. was a fellow IBM employee at the Bethesda, Maryland office where I worked in 1982. He used the same response whenever someone would say hello to him, “Hey, I got nine years left, buddy.” In other words, it was nine years until he retired, so he was not putting up with any malarkey.

Nowadays we would say Joe H. had quietly quit his job. Back then we were saying he was mailing it in.

The concept of quiet quitting – also known as working to rule, lying flat, or basically declining to go above and beyond what one is paid to do – has seen its share of ink or digital presence recently, so I won’t spend too much time on it here, other than to say the equal and opposite reaction to quiet quitting has been severe. Forbes magazine carried an article explaining how to spot someone who has quietly quit their job. On September 1 The Washington Post ran a story about employers’ subtlety undertaking efforts to quietly fire those who decide to mail it in.

I left IBM in 1988 so I don’t know if Joe H. ever made his personal finish line. Perhaps he quietly mailed in his retirement paperwork.

Vendor or vender?

A story in the July 18 issue of The New Yorker discussed, in a level of detail only The New Yorker can do, the burgeoning popularity of pickleball, that table tennis on a tennis court game that continues to gain popularity among the north of age 60 population. No, I have not played the game – yet.

I was less smitten by the story about pickleball than I was about writer Sarah Larson’s use of the word “venders” rather than the more current spelling, “vendors.” Her excellent prose was referencing merchants selling goods at a pickleball tournament. I confess to being unfamiliar with that spelling. Merriam-Webster says it is a correct, albeit out-of-date spelling.

I reached out to Larson via Twitter and email to ask about her selection of the older usage. Sadly, an off-the-wall random inquiry about a single word in an article containing upwards of 10,000 words (I didn’t count, I Googled it) did not generate a response.

In his book, “Dreyer’s English,” author Benjamin Dreyer pokes fun at The New Yorker, explaining that the magazine most likely has a style and usage guide so cumbersome that it can probably be seen from outer space. The spelling of venders may be a part of that tome. 

New words

Speaking of a tome, Merriam-Webster just added 370 words to the dictionary. Some, like janky (poor quality) and sus (suspicious) have been around for a while. The process of adding words to a dictionary takes time. Kory Stamper, in her book about dictionaries, “Word by Word,” takes the reader through the mysterious, bureaucratic, and whimsical process of deciding if a word is, well, a word.

Back to school or back-to-school

Late August marks the start of a new school year in many communities. Stores run their share of back-to-school sales while print, online, and broadcast news outlets carry multiple stories about going back to school.

Wait, did I just use the term two ways, once with hyphens and once without? Yep, and I was right both times. Back to school should be hyphenated when it precedes a noun, allowing it to act as an adjective. But if you are not talking about a back-to-school sale, story, or event and just jawboning about how the kids are going back to school, then no hyphens are needed.

Let’s write carefully out there, people.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Fort Myers, Florida. His award-winning book, A Few Words About Words. A common-sense look at writing and grammar is available wherever fine books are sold.

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