I am a a thirty-fivish man who works in a small office. And even though I never went to college, I pride myself (non-annoyingly) on using words correctly. As I watch my culture crumble around me, I am particularly pained by the carelessness with which certain words are used. And this by so-called educated people. For example, people will say "I have a real dilemma here", but then they go on to describe a situation that does not have "two equally desirable options that are mutually exclusive". What they really find them selves in could be more properly described as a "pickle". But, as I say, I try not to be annoying about it. I just seethe silently, shaking my head at the general ignorance of people. I don't want to be going around wagging my finger at people like some kind of "word cop". I'm not perfect myself (as evidenced by the glaring grammatical errors in this very entry!) But today I find myself in a situation that (I feel) might call for some action. A superior of mine, today requested that I do something (it isn't important to describe what I do here) "several" times. Desiring more specificity (Hey, I'm not here for fun!) I requested that he tell me EXACTLY how many times he wanted me to do this thing. And he (with great frustration) replied "Why, SEVEN times!" I then realized that this man ( both my superior and a few years my elder ) has gotten to this stage in life thinking that "several" means "seven". I feel this is so egregious an error that he must be advised of it. I mean, this is a person on whom I am depending on for my bread and butter. What if he says this in front of a client? It's also undermining my respect for him, eating away at it like a cloud of termites. However, I feel that he will probably react with anger and shame if I bring it up. He's not the sort of person who takes criticism well. The whole thing will probably wind up biting me in the butt. In short, I find myself in a bit of a pickle. Should I say something? If so, how can I do it in a way that does not backfire?
-- blue lanugo, Pasadena CA
Personally, I would take this up with your boss before he makes a fool of himself, several times, but if he happens to also think "a few" means "three", kiss your job goodbye. Nobody critiques his vernacular!
When your boss states several to you in front of clients, you now know what he means, so don't worry about it. Take a deep breath, count to severalteen, and you'll be OK. Easy!
Excuse my gramma.