Tuesday, February 7, 2012

If you're just joining us, we may or may not exist

If you don't know who this is, it's Terry Gross. If you do know
who this is, it's Bishop Fulton Sheen.
When working from home, I surrender to National Public Radio, letting the talk shows palaver over me all day. Mostly it's white noise, but I learn about my world through osmosis, judging by the surprising tidbits of news that fall from my mouth at dinner time.

One of my favorite shows is Fresh Air, with Terry Gross, a Philadelphia talk show host who often devotes her daily hour broadcast to in-depth interviews with interesting people about fascinating topics.

On occasion it's ear candy — interviews with some of my favorite creatives, such as Tom Waits or Art Spiegelman — and sometimes it's dense and hard to digest. Most of the time the interviews are revelations on new ideas —string theory! email etiquette! misguided forces bent on controlling our government for their own dark agendas! — and my brain cells, when listening, dance.

The show is perfect.

Except …

Terry Gross, bless her, does this really annoying thing, over and over and over, show after show: In the middle of interviews, or when she comes out of a station break, she says, "If you're just joining us, my guest is _______ …"


"If you're just joining us?!?" For me, it's the aural equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

I want to shout at the radio, "And if I've been with you since the start of the show, who is your guest?!"

I want it to be a different guest each time, just to make her absurd grammar true. We English nerds call the proper use the conditional real verb tense; for example, "If I get off work early, I'm going to swim."

Terry Gross commits the improper use, what could only be called the conditional surreal tense.

Her guest hosts do the same thing, as if trained so. Maybe it's printed on a sign on the studio wall.

But why? Why, why why? In a show so edifying, why muck it up?

Why not simply, "My guest is ________ …?" That covers it all. I'd even allow, "Welcome to Fresh Air, my guest is ________," each time. I'm no foe of marketing, just bad grammar.

I wrote Fresh Air once to complain; after, it seemed like the Gross and the other hosts did it more to spite me.

This reached its absurd apex when Gross' guest was comedian Demetri Martin, who makes fun of just this sort of thing.

He had finished his bit about a waitress telling him, "'If you need anything, my name is Jill.' Oh, my god, I've never met a woman with a conditional identity before," he said.  "What if we don't need anything, who are you? 'If you don't need anything, my name is Mike.'"

Two-second pause. Then on cue, Terry Gross said, "If you're just joining us, my guest is Demetri Martin." I could almost hear Martin's eyes roll.

It's a cross I bear, putting up with this linguistic slaughter. Others around me must bear it too, because I hardly ever let pass an utterance of the conditional surreal.

"If you're hungry, there's lunch meat in the fridge," my wife will say, to which I will answer, "And if I'm not hungry, what's in there?"

"Oh for God's sake," or something worse, she says, "It's just conversation. It's just the way people talk. Why can't you leave it alone?"

Really, why can't I?

If you've read this far, I'm hungry. Can you get me a sandwich?


  1. I love Terry Gross but the "If you're just joining us" is driving me bonkers! I wrote to complain and I thought it made it worse. It's good to see I'm not the only one who has noticed this. I even suggested on my Facebook page that this phrase could be turned into a drinking game. I am the on-air host during Fresh Air so I have to listen. AAAARrrrggh!!

  2. you might get schnockered playing that game, lori. maybe better to drink whenever an npr anchor or reporter says, "going forward," or when a reporter or interviewee says, "at the end of the day." you're a public radio host, huh? maybe you could follow in with, "and if you're just joining me, i'm still lori." you know, add ad nauseam.