December, 2009

All of the articles in this issue of my newsletter are about words and expressions that are misused, confusing, or ambiguous. This issue of my newsletter is for my Uncle Maurice, a man who loves precise definitions of words. Maurice has a huge dictionary in his living room, and he uses it every day.


I have never met an applicant for an apartment who didn't know the difference between a one bedroom apartment and a studio apartment. A bedroom must have a window. It must also have a door that separates it from the living room. If there is no bedroom, it's a studio apartment.

However, in the hotel industry, the word 'suite' can mean anything. At some hotels, a 'suite' looks just like a one bedroom apartment, but at other hotels, a 'suite' is just a big room with a bath. The difference between these 2 definitions is important, especially for families traveling with children and unrelated people sharing a 'suite', like a bunch of college students on spring break. In a one bedroom 'suite', there is noise and light separation between the bedroom and the living room, but in a 'suite' that is just one big room, that lack of separation can be a huge inconvenience.

All major multi-tiered hotel chains now have at least one 'all suite' hotel brand. Hilton owns Embassy and Homewood Suites. Marriott owns SpringHill and TownePlace Suites. At some 'all suite' hotels, there is a bedroom in every 'suite', but at others, there are no bedrooms at all. My advice is this: before you confirm a reservation for a hotel 'suite', find out exactly what the hotel means by the word 'suite.' Many hotels use a code phrase to let you know that their 'suites' have no bedrooms. For example, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas calls a lot of their rooms 'junior suites.' That is their code phrase for: 'there is no bedroom.'

You should also never assume that a hotel 'suite' has a kitchen. If it does, then what does the hotel mean by the word 'kitchen?' 'Kitchen' is another word that means different things at different hotels. In some 'suites', every kitchen has a stove, microwave, refrigerator, and a sink. On the other hand, I once stayed in a 'suite' that had a 'kitchenette' which consisted of a microwave oven sitting on a cube refrigerator inside a closet.


I love euphemisms! A euphemism is a word or an expression that is designed to make something sound nicer than it actually is, or at least make it sound less unpleasant. Here's an example: when I was a kid, some supermarkets sold rapeseed oil, but it didn't sell very well. People didn't like the sound of the name. Then they changed the name of the product to canola oil, and now, everybody buys it. Well, last month, my dentist told me that he wanted to 'deep clean' my teeth. He said that he would have to anesthetize me first for this procedure. I asked him why he needed to anesthetize me just to clean my teeth. He said: "Well, this isn't regular tooth cleaning. This is deep cleaning." I said: "What's the difference?" He said: "Well, we used to call this procedure 'root scraping', but a lot of people wouldn't let us do that. We take this planing tool, get it under your gums, and then scrape the roots of your teeth. Since we changed the name of the procedure from 'root scraping' to 'deep cleaning', a lot more people let us do it." Yep. I'm sure that's true! As it turned out, the procedure was no big deal, but it did take a long time, almost 3 hours.


One of my favorite euphemisms is 'convenience charge.' As you know, airlines are now charging travelers for many services that used to be free, but did you know that hotels are doing the same thing? Hotels everywhere are replacing the word 'complimentary' (free) with 'convenience' (not free.) Many hotels used to place a 'complimentary' miniature York peppermint pattie on every bed pillow, but today, you are more likely to find a 'convenience' chocolate bar on your pillow. Eat it, and you'll be billed $10. And before you drink that bottle of water on your nightstand, remember, that's also a 'convenience' item. Expect to pay about $8 a bottle, even though the only thing printed on the label is the hotel's logo. Private label water is almost always city tap water. I was at an upscale hotel in Santa Cruz recently. They had a bunch of computers in a room off the lobby. A sign on the wall said that the use of the computers was 'complimentary', but if you wanted to connect to the internet, there was a 'convenience charge' of $30 an hour. What's convenient about that? At the Ritz Carlton hotel in Westchester, New York, there is a 'convenience charge' for making local phone calls of $1.70 a minute. That means that a 30 minute local phone call costs $50, even though connecting a local phone call costs a hotel virtually nothing. So beware of the word 'convenience' when you are traveling. When an airline, hotel, or car rental company uses the word 'convenience,' they mean it's convenient for them, not you.


A lot of people get into trouble with the law because they believe that they have some legal right that doesn't actually exist. There are people who believe that American citizens have a Constitutionally protected 'right to party' in their homes. That isn't true. Americans do have a right to privacy in their homes, but the right to privacy is not the same thing as the 'right to party'. There is no 'right to party'. Landlords can restrict parties in their buildings. They can even prohibit parties completely, and some do. Many condominium homeowner associations ban partying. I have restrictions on parties in all my leases, and I enforce them. The 'right to party' is not a legal concept. It is just wishful thinking - often on the part of drunk college students when the police show up.


I recently watched an old episode of '60 Minutes' in which Barack Obama was in his kitchen making lunch for his kids. He turned to one of his daughters and asked: "What do you like besides tuna fish sandwiches?" Then Obama, his daughters, and Steve Kroft, the interviewer from 60 Minutes, all started talking about 'tuna fish.' I have never understood why everybody calls tuna 'tuna fish.' When I was a child, I used to drive my mother crazy asking her questions like: "Why call it 'tuna fish'? Nobody calls salmon 'salmon fish.' Nobody calls trout 'trout fish.' Why is tuna the only fish that people add the word 'fish' to." Also, "What other kind of tuna is there besides fish? There is no such thing as a tuna bird, or a tuna cow, or a tuna dog." My mother was an elementary schoolteacher, so she was accustomed to getting asked questions like this by small children, questions that you can only answer with: "I don't know." In case you would like Obama's recipe for tuna salad, Obama told Steve Kroft that he combines 'tuna fish' with Grey Poupon mustard, mayonnaise, and chopped gherkin pickles.


When I heard that Sarah Palin's book was titled 'Going Rogue', I was genuinely surprised. After thinking it over, I wondered if it was possible that she doesn't know what that expression means. A lot of people don't. The term 'going rogue' refers to elephants. 'Going rogue' does not mean that an elephant has left the herd and become a loner, lively a solitary life, although that is what some people think it means. A rogue elephant is an elephant that has become violent and destructive. Rogue elephants are often vindictive. They chase after people who are trying to escape in order to kill them. In Africa, India, and southeast Asia; people are killed by rogue elephants all the time, and the problem is getting worse. As a result of the international ban on the sale of ivory, the number of elephants living in the wild has increased significantly, and so have the number of people killed by rogue elephants. In Africa, wildlife rangers routinely hunt down and kill rogue elephants. Circuses and zoos around the world also kill elephants that have 'gone rogue.' I can't help but wonder - Is this really what Sarah Palin wanted people to think of her when she picked the title "Going Rogue" for her autobiography???


All of the back issues of my newsletter can be seen at Tarses Rentals.

Mark Tarses

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