Classified Information

Procrastinating on a Tuesday morning, I managed to make my third cup of tea outlast the front page, the editorial page, the obituaries, the word jumble, and the comics. This explains why I was browsing through the classifieds.

"Never worn, strapless pickup wedding gown." Isn't that a little contradictory? Not to mention that, as a pickup line, "Do you like my wedding gown?" might be a bit presumptuous.

Oh. Never mind. All became clear in a second ad, for a wedding dress "extra length for pickup style." Apparently this style must be a skirt so long that you have to hold it up so you won't trip over it. Bouquet in one hand, skirt in the other—it doesn't exactly leave the bride a free hand if she needs to tug up her strapless bodice. It may be the latest in bridal fashion, but this idea seems to be a few yards short of a full train.

Over in the household goods column was a deep fat fryer, "used only three times (I'm single)." Excuse me? Was the seller giving his marital status as a reason for not using the fryer? Or maybe he was just taking advantage of an opportunity, along the lines of what Lena did after Ole died. She couldn't afford more than one line for the obituary, so she told the editor just to put in "Ole died." The editor, a sympathetic soul, told her she could add three more words for the same price. The published obituary read, "Ole died. Boat for sale."

Maybe the same principle was at work here. You never know who reads the classifieds, after all. Maybe the former fryer could get together with the owner of the never-worn pickup wedding gown.

There was half a column of ads trying to give away kittens, each one "free to a good home." Anyone who's been there, either on the kitten-giving or kitten-getting side of the transaction, knows what this really means. It doesn't mean, "You'd better be kind, loving cat people, and we'll check." Nope. It means, "Please, please take a kitten. We don't care who you are. Take two, and we'll throw in a bag of cat food and half a bushel of zucchini."

Skimming through pets, collectibles, and household goods, I noticed a phrase common to a great many ads. Cars, couches, coats, and kittens were described as red, green, blue, or calico "in color." Thanks for clarifying; otherwise I might have assumed it was red in size.

All the ink wasted on those extra "in colors" might have been put to better use if people would give better descriptions of what they have for sale. Suppose, for example, you're looking for a dresser and you find one in the classifieds. The first question you'll probably ask when you call is, "How big is it?"

"Um, I'm not sure. You want me to measure it?"

"Yes, please."

You wait. You know it's going to take a while. First the seller has to rummage unsuccessfully in the hallway closet for a yardstick, then go down the basement to find a tape measure, then go back upstairs to measure the dresser, then come back downstairs to the phone.

You pass the time by reading more ads. There's an electric typewriter described as an "antique." Yeah, right; lots of luck getting 15 bucks for that. Hmm, there's a treadmill for only $125; maybe you should call. Just about the time you've almost decided it would be nice to have a kitten, the seller comes back on the line. "It's 56 inches wide, and 32 inches high, and 18 inches deep. And it has a big mirror."

"I'm afraid that's too big. Thanks anyway." You resist the temptation to add, "And if you had measured it first and described it better in the ad, you would have saved both of us a lot of time."

The final ad I read was a classic in only one line, a masterful combination of wasted words and under-information. "Sitting chair, maroon in color."

This seller could have learned a lot from Lena.

Categories: Words for Nerds | Leave a comment

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