Thursday, January 7, 2016

Faffing Around

I have discovered I am the object of some quizzical inquiry in my place of work. It turns out the two regular members of my shift, Nick who is a Conch:
And JW who is also a man of long lineage in Key West:
...have been monitoring me and my use of language. This came up the other day as I was dealing with a recalcitrant Trainee who was having difficulty believing I knew what I was talking about. He was staring at the monitor as I was explaining step by step how to enter certain information into the computer. The police dispatcher on our shift is required to note and type every piece of activity called out by the cops on patrol and if the dispatcher doesn't keep up the flood of information can be overwhelming.
 
After the Trainee went on break I was sitting there enjoying the silence of not training for a minute when JW started giggling. 
"We were texting, Nick and me and it turns out faffing is a real word, at least in Urban Dictionary," JW said staring into his phone. Cross-room texting is popular in dispatch when I'm training as I spend a lot of time talking and explaining and using examples to keep the Trainee alert, killing other more leisurely conversation that usually fills the room. That Nick and JW were commenting on my vocabulary came as a bit of a surprise.

(This is a former dispatch Trainee I worked with years ago, now a cop on the road:
)
It turns out I had been indulging my use of language with an old English expression, "For God's sake stop faffing around and enter the call," I'd said in exasperation as the Trainee wondered which way was up. And JW and Nick had caught on and asked themselves if "faffing" really is a word. Apparently it is. BY the way the Trainee got over his nerves, stopped faffing around and got the job done. 
I enjoy the English sense of humor, dry and rather restrained yet biting while understated. Humor is much easier to deploy in a mono-culture because the goal posts are the same. In the US there is always someone ready to be mortally offended by a public display of biting humor. JW and Nick's attention to detail surprised me. 

It turns out my language has been monitored on other occasions too.  In conversation I mentioned someone was a pompous gasbag, and JW later told me he rushed to the dictionary as he heard me say it and later still he was most excited to find the word pompous in a comic he was reading, "...and I knew exactly what they meant!" he told me triumphantly. 
Downside, Hogwarts
I was educated in a British public school at vast expense by my father who did not like me much (I was not biologically his) and who preferred to shuffle me off to a "good school" where I would be away 8 months of the year. Consequently my inability to capitalize on this investment in later years I think deepened the rift between us. I did not go to university, nor did I network, nor did I seek out meaningful employment: I ran away to California. 

So now, after a life spent faffing about I have finally found the source of meaning for all those years under the thumbs of Benedictine monks at Downside School: I am here to expand the vocabulary of my Conch colleagues. But don't imagine it's a one way street as I learn just as much from them about life as they learn obscure language arts from me. I can thus confidently say a meal without a banana is not a Conch meal in certain peoples' homes. JW is learning operatic arias as I forget myself and let loose as I come stumping up the stairs to work unaware he is at the top waiting to be serenaded. It's all a bit of a  trade off.

7 comments:

Sandi Foster said...

one other good word that i am sure you have used.... gobsmacked....

Trobairitz said...

I miss the dry British humor we used to hear in BC and grew up with. Down here people have a tendency to take themselves too seriously.

Robert Wilson said...

I was born, raised and educated in America...but nothing beats a good "bloody hell!" now and again.

Conchscooter said...

All true.

David Masse said...

Michael, Downside School! That is hilarious. And now you know that your non-biological father, the Abbot of Downside, and the rest of us, finally understand what the downside was that the school, laboring away at educating young Britons since 1814, had to offer! Rather than becoming a faffing banker, cleric, member of Parliament, or much less Prime Minister, there is a chance that, once in a long while, a student will become a very, very, very decent, kind hearted, generous chap, seeing to it that civilization is protected in far-flung Key West, and that a very old slightly lazy dog lives in comfort to a ripe old age.

The law of averages and all who are privileged to know you thank the Benedictine monks of Downside Abbey, the current Abbott, and their improbably named school.

David Masse said...

By the way, if you are at all nostalgic, Downside has a vary nice web site, a Twitter hashtag, and a lovely drone video of the Abbey, the school and surrounding countryside.

Conchscooter said...

Dear oh dear you have been doing your homework! Very kind words too thank you.