Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Whenever I call my bank, or my credit card company, or my health insurer, or any other company that has privacy protections on my account, they ask me to "verify" my birthdate, or my Social Security number, or other personal information, so that they know it is really I. (That sounds awkward, but it's correct.) In response, I say, "OK", then wait. After a moment, the operator usually repeats him- or herself, and then I say, "Sure, go ahead. Tell me what you have on file for me and I'll 'verify' it." Then, the operator starts explaining, and I say, "Oh, you want me to tell you my birthdate. See, that's not what 'verify' means. 'Verify' means to check information you've been given. You can 'verify' what I tell you, but I can't 'verify' until you've told me something. So I will tell you my birthdate, and you can 'verify' it against your records." See why I'm so popular with operators. Hey, they make me wait long enough, and go through enough "for x, press y" menus just to talk to them. Wait 'til you hear how I treat telemarketers!

[Remember how Ronald Reagan used to quote what he claimed was a Russian proverb, "doveryai, no proveryai": "trust, but verify"? In other words, give the Soviets the benefit of the doubt when they say they are eliminating a whole category of nuclear-armed missiles, but check with inspections and spy satellites. Remember when Gorbachev reponded to one repetition of the quote, "V kazhdom vstreche, vy boltaietye eto": "At every meeting, you blather that"? Man, Gorbachev rocked.]

Sort of along the same lines: it used to be that you would "check" your bag or coat at restaurants, clubs, even stores. Now, the loss-prevention people at the entrance to the record store say, "Can I check your bag?" That, to me, means "Can I look inside to make sure you aren't stealing?" which should be asked on the way out, as it was by a Dickensian drudge on a stool at the exit to my college library. On the way in, they should ask, "Would you check your bag, please?" But then, lots of verbs have switched agents. If you are "interviewing" for a job, are you the prospective employee, or the prospective employer?

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