7 things I wish I didn’t know

I hate to make mistakes. I try to be really precise in my language and terminology in all fields, especially professional ones. This usually has one of two effects: it takes me forever to say what I want to say, or it causes severe annoyance when I hear other people use the terms wrong.

I am aware that this is somewhat crazy. With that admission out there, I give you the seven things I wish I didn’t know.

— 1 —

What a denomination is

Or more precisely, what a denomination is not. There are denominations, there are churches, there are religions, then there are non-denominational…denominations? Honestly I am often reduced to just using the term “religious groups” in my teaching to avoid getting into the nitty-gritty of what that word means.

— 2 —

That not all Catholics are Roman Catholics


Melkite Jesus says “Hey, Melkites are Catholic too!”

John Stephen Dwyer [CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

I once got a survey that listed Roman Catholic alongside Orthodox, Protestant, Muslim, etc, and does not offer an option for Catholics of other rites. So I wrote to the person who sent it to me and told them that not all Catholics are Roman Catholics, and that they shouldn’t leave out Melkite, Maronite Catholics, etc. It should just have said “Catholic” to be inclusive. Though Catholics of other rites are a slim minority, I’m sure they are relieved that I am looking out for them.

(I also wrote a novel in the margins of a health survey at acupuncture when they listed Colitis and then IBS/Crohn’s. Don’t they know Crohn’s is an Inflammatory Bowel Disease, not an Irritable Bowel Syndrome? If I’m going to have chronic inflammation for the rest of my life, I at least want to get credit for it)

— 3 —

The difference between a nun and a sister

Nuns are cloistered. Sisters are not.

No one cares.

Admittedly, “nun” has entered common parlance , so I don’t feel quite so badly about using the shorthand. If Nuns on a Bus say it’s OK, it must be. Even though part of me wants to scream NUN ON A BUS IS AN OXYMORON!

— 4 —

That résumé has two accents aigus

This is another one that has crept into common usage in a modified form, of course as resume. I really don’t mind seeing it spelled without the accents. But when I send my artistic résumé to directors or conductors, I just can’t bring myself to say that my “rehzoom” is attached. So I either type in Word and add the accents, then copy and paste into Gmail, or I just say my “materials” are attached.

— 5 —

The plural of accent aigu

Seriously, this is why I have no friends.

— 6 —

That one is not supposed to congratulate upon an engagement

I read this fact once, presumably in an antiquated book of etiquette, and ever since have suffered through hearing screeching congrats upon said happy news, while I say “Best wishes!” like a character in an Austen novel. It’s not that I am not happy for people, but that I have decided that is the only rule of etiquette to which I am going to stick.

(The idea is that engagement is not an accomplishment in itself – one is not entering a new stage of life, simply announcing that they intend to enter a new stage of life. Congratulations should be reserved for the wedding. So sayeth Emily Post).

Another etiquette fact I wish I’d never read is that a couple’s names should be listed on separate lines of an address or invitation if not married and only on the same line if they are married. Now I notice this.

— 7 —


If you graded papers for ten minutes you would already be tired of using the red pen on there/their/they’re, to/too, and (in my case) altar/alter. This is the supreme case in which ignorance would indeed be bliss. I want desperately not to care. But my profession demands it.

And sadly, my personality demands it too. I have an unfortunate tendency to notice and care. Since my mother taught me from a young age that it’s rude to correct someone as long as you understand what they mean, I never, ever mention to someone when they have hit one of these tripwires. That is a good first step. The next step is to stop being such a snob and get over it.

What do you wish you didn’t know?

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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13 Responses to 7 things I wish I didn’t know

  1. My French wife thanks you for caring about the accent aigu. She is not happy when people leave out the accent. For her the word is not spelled correctly if the accent is left out. Bon courage….

  2. Renee says:


    When I helped our with marriage prep, it was an accomplishment if the couple decided NOT to marry. Saved two persons from divorce.

  3. Kathleen says:

    They’re/their/there and other similar ones make me IN-SANE. 🙂

  4. Karen says:

    I had to smile about not congratulating upon engagement. I learned the same rule as I was growing up in the south, only with a different twist. One congratulated the prospective groom (apparently for “landing” a wife), but one never congratulated the prospective bride, only offered her one’s “best wishes” (presumably because one could not politely acknowledge that she had been “fishing” for a groom).

  5. Val says:

    Je suis d’accord. One that gets me is the absence of the accent grave in “blessèd.” Also, it’s actually technically incorrect to get liberal with the capitalized pronouns in reference to God. I had some nutty lady trying to prophesy to me on the bus some weeks back about why the proper day for worship was Saturday (my salvation depends on this exclusively, apparently, God is not open for business other days). I refrained from giving her an entire history of Western calendaring systems. I refrained from re-running the entire Council of Trent a couple months back. Mmm…how about the difference between irony, sarcasm, and satire? I write H2O2 and Mg(SO)4 on my shopping lists. I take pictures of wrong museum labels. My best friend lectured a cheeky guard for twenty minutes on Wednesday on Renaissance costume in Italian Renaissance art in the North Wing of the Getty (I’d gone on for hours teaching her about illuminated manuscripts all morning). The previous sentence was not puntuated properly for prepositional phrases. I am a Celtic studies nightmare. I know dances by time signature. The orientation of the horns of a triceratops changes over time with its maturation. I know the proper administration and protocol for sealing wax. I have no friends because I don’t always catch quickly enough that when people ask a question for small talk, they don’t always want the detailed analysis. My friends could probably add several pages of my other quirky bits of knowledge. I am irredeemably odd, and would be an irredeemably insufferable know-it-all if I wasn’t such a natural teacher about all the crazy stuff I know.

    I understand.


  6. Geralyn says:

    LOVE no. 5 🙂

    And if you go to http://www.anunslife.org they provide a working definition that the cloistered dames who embroider alter (altar!) linen are “nuns”, as opposed to the apostolic ladies of conscrecrated life who can be called “Sisters” or “nuns”, with the latter still sticking due to society’s old habits. Nun-pun intended.

  7. What do you wish you didn’t know?

    Well, I’m actually perfectly happy to know the example I’ll give, but I hardly ever mention it to anyone: an advance and a retainer in legal practice are not the same thing. Each of them, if we’re precise, is actually exactly what the word indicates: an advance is a payment in advance for services that will be rendered later, and a retainer is a fee retaining the attorney as one’s counsel regardless of whether the counsel is ever used. The advance doesn’t become the lawyer’s money (it should be held in trust) until the services it pays for are rendered. The retainer, on the other hand, is his from the get-go (he’s just being paid to form the specific attorney-client relationship), and any fee for actual services should be on top of that.

    Of course, no one, including almost every lawyer I know, makes this distinction. Everyone calls an advance a retainer, and, really, not a great many attorneys get fees simply for the exclusivity of their counsel (retainers).

    No, no, now I realize, it is not I who wishes he did not know that. Having been treated to this fascinating discourse, all of the readers who wish they didn’t–and no doubt long for that precious minute or two of their lives back. I have a fascinating job that gives rise to fascinating thoughts.

    • RAnn says:

      True but sometimes the same check is used for the same thing. My boss charges clients a retainer of $xxx which is placed in trust and billed against on an hourly basis. When the amount in trust falls below a certain point, the client is asked to replenish it. However, the agreement is that the minimum fee is $y; in other words, he may ask for $1000 retainer. He’ll bill against it at $100/hr (made up numbers to be sure) and when the trust account gets under $500, the client needs to bring it back up to $1000. If for whatever reason the billing never reaches $1000, my boss gets to keep the $1,000 anyway because accepting this client may have conflicted him out of accepting others.

  8. Mark Allman says:

    I wish I did not know that my father killed himself. I wish I did not know anything about race. I wish I did not know some people have absolutely no idea what I do for them.

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