I beg your pardon

One of the treats of this summer’s sabbatical was that we had extra opportunities to read to our grandchildren. Since their father is a librarian, there are always lots of books in their house and we would never get bored reading in that context. And our seven-year-old grandson is old enough to read to us, too, which is a special treat. Still, we packed a bin of books into our camper for nights when our grandchildren came to sleep over and afternoons when we needed a break to just sit and read. Some of the books we brought are new to this generation of our family. Others are books that our children loved and we loved reading to them.

I’m not very good at voices, but I can do a credible cookie monster for “Happy Birthday Cookie Monster!” I’m not so good at Bert and Ernie, however. I can do a pretty good Grover for “The Monster at the End of this Book,” and the kids can recognize Elmo in “Another Monster at the End of this Book.” Our grandchildren love “Fred and Ted Go Camping,” partly because they get to go camping (with a canoe nonetheless) and their grandfather is named Ted. And “There’s a Mouse in the House” is a book that I’ve read so many times that I can continue to the next page before the kids turn the page.

Some of the books we took with us are ones that we simply love. They were so much fun to read to our children that we want another opportunity to read them again. One of those books is by Sesyle Joslin with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, called “What Do You Say, Dear?” It is a tongue-in-cheek lesson in manners with such classic scenarios such as this: “You are flying around in your airplane and you remember that the Duchess said, ‘Do drop in for tea some time.’ So you do, only it makes a rather large hole in here roof. What do you say, dear?” (turn the page) “I’m sorry.”

Here’s another: “You go to London to see the Queen. She says, ‘Oh you must stay for dinner. We are having spaghetti.’ So you do, and there is spaghetti for the appetizer, spaghetti for the main dish, and a spaghetti salad. By the time the Queen’s guard brings spaghetti for dessert, you cannot fit into your chair any more and you want to leave the table. What do you say, dear?” (turn the page) “”May I please be excused.”

And here is the one that I was thinking about after something that happened to me yesterday: “You are at the Princess’ ball and she is telling you a secret, but her orchestra of bears is making such a fearful lot of noise you cannot hear what she is saying. What do you say, dear?” (turn the page) “I beg your pardon.”

So here is what happened to me. I was in the grocery store. I had purchased a small number of items, (using my “We Care” food card, of course). I had put my purchases into my own bag and so was returning the cart to the place inside the store where they park the carts. A woman was getting a cart out of the area to do her shopping and I paused for a brief moment to let her get out of the area before going in with my cart. On her way by me she said, “Pardon me.”

I replied, “No worries.” It is a phrase we learned when we were in Australia and is meant to say that no trouble has been caused.

What I was thinking was far more complex. First of all. she had done nothing wrong. Going into the store and getting a cart to do your shopping is completely normal and polite behavior. There was nothing for which she needed pardon. I wasn’t inconvenienced in any way.

Long after our exchange, I thought I might have said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the power to pardon. The governor can pardon a violation of state law and the president can pardon a violation of federal law, but I’m just a minister. As far as I know, I don’t have the power to pardon anyone for anything. I think I can grand absolution if you happen to be Protestant, but we don’t do that very much in my church because we figure that we are all sinners and it takes the Grace of God for us to be assured of forgiveness.” That would have really confused her and led her to believe that I am a really strange person.

According to the Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary, “I beg your pardon is a phrase used in formal speech that can have two different meanings. The first is “I’m sorry,” and is used when you have made a mistake or done something wrong. The second is used to show that you strongly disagree or that you are angry about something that someone has said. Here is their example of that second usage: “I beg your pardon, young man - I don’t want to hear you speak like that again!”

Pardon me is a less formal phrase, but certainly has its roots in the formal phrase. So perhaps the woman at the grocery store wasn’t apologizing for something she had done, but rather expressing her disagreement or anger at something that I had said, which doesn’t quite make sense since i had said nothing to her and I think the last thing I had said was “Thank you,” to a store employee who had helped me with the self-checkout machine when it registered the wrong weight for the bag I was using and the employee had to reset the machine.

I’m sticking with my observation that no pardon was necessary in the situation. Still it was kind of the woman to say something nice with a smile to me. I believe I was a complete stranger to her.

Anyways, no worries. It all was just fine.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!