Hold it!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

There is a song with words saying something about knowing when to hold and when to fold. I'm not a poker player so I probably wouldn't know which to do if I played a game. But I have certainly been told many times lately to "please hold."

These telephone moments when we are waiting for action are bad enough if we are just sitting there quietly by ourselves. But when we have to sit there and hear commercials rattled on and on during a 10 or 15 minute "hold," it becomes intolerable. After the first few minutes you feel you have only two options. You can keep on sitting and holding, or you can hang up.

Hanging up makes you lose the little gains you have made in the initial call so most of us keep holding. There is an occasional break in the recorded commercial when you can hear another recorded voice telling you that they appreciate your patience and you will be taken care of very soon. That doesn't give much encouragement when we have heard the message more than three times already.

A recent bout I had with telephone holditis ended with being told that I would be transferred to another number where they could take care of my problem. And, of course, when I got to that second number I was asked to "please hold. The next available operator will serve you soon."

I tried to avoid the phone call by using the Internet, but my skills weren't sharp enough to get the information I needed that way so I went back to the telephone.

Hold is a nice word. It is a very good feeling to hold a new baby in your arms for the first time. Holding a sleeping cat on your lap is very comforting on a cold winter evening. Being told to "hold" for an X-ray is understandable and passes quickly.

The dictionary gives more ways to use the word. It suggests that you can "hold your breath." That suggests something very exciting and pleasurable that would make you hold your breath. You can also feel in command of things if you "hold the fort."

Other uses of the word describe size (the car will hold five people comfortably) or position, "he holds the office of president." You can even hold a belief, or continue to follow a former rule by "holding to the principle."

A confusing use of the word happens when you can hold down a job, but you can hold up a bank. When that happens you need to hold off trying to explain our language to a foreigner. If this isn't confusing enough you can talk about the "hold sign" in music or even mention the interior of a ship below the deck.

I probably could hold forth longer but I am afraid the editor would hold me guilty for misuse of a newspaper. But one thing I noticed right away, with all the different definitions in my Thorndike-Barnhart Desk Dictionary was that no definition fit the most common use of the word today -- being put "on hold."

I was puzzled at this lack because there were dozens of uses mentioned, but none at all about my telephone problem. Then I looked at the copyright of the book. It was published in 1951. I had to acknowledge that all of the advances made in over 50 years would add to the usage of the word. But hold on there a minute. Is that really an advance? At least in 1951 the only time I had to hold for hours was with one of our babies.