Wednesday, November 30

A COUPLE of days after Thanksgiving, last Saturday afternoon, to be exact, it being pleasant and mild, I went out for a leg-stretch and lung-full around the neighborhood.

Not many people were in evidence, but on Clayborne Street a large pleasant man in blue jeans was shoveling nice black mulch into a wheelbarrow from a copious pile which had been delivered to his impeccably asphalted driveway.

He looked the picture of polished success — partner in a law firm, or a banking executive, an investment advisor, maybe even the pastor of a large, well-endowed downtown church — vigorous, well-barbered, rimless glasses, hefty but trim, obviously cheerfully open to whatever turns up.

  • Between shovelfuls he gave me a friendly nod as I passed by.

    "That's a good way to work off the pumpkin pie," it emboldened me to reply.

    "There you go!" he said with a chuckle.

    There you go

    I have been ruminating ever since on that idiom of genial agreement. It is one of those useful phrases that oil social conversation. I am intrigued by its difference from "There you go." That means something different — "all done," "all set," "transaction completed," "be on your way now."

    "There you go" is one of a family of phrases — "Right you are," "You said it," "You've got it," "You're telling me" — all meaning some shade of "You're right," "I agree.


    " Each phrase, though, is slightly different in what it conveys — an echo of an earlier decade or level of gentility.

    To a sensitive ear, they are not interchangeable. "Tell me about it," though superficially expressing agreement, gives voice to a decidedly different mood. It carries a weary sense of grievance, a flavor of bitterness — "Why presume to tell me what I already know more about than you do?"

    And though the words were almost the same, Ronald Reagan's famous "There you go again" in one of the presidential debates, meant something entirely different from what the mulcher meant. What Reagan said was a sneer masquerading as an innocuous pleasantry. His "again" altered the mulcher's friendly "There you go" into a malicious put-down, made it into a complexity of implications impossible to respond to.

    I don't think "There you go" is a regionalism, though maybe it is. Maybe it is a Portlandism — I've heard it before, but I don't remember when or where.

    It's familiarly said to children, as when having tied their shoes or put on their mittens one says "There you go" and gives them a concluding pat.

  • Somehow — perhaps thanks to TV — it has migrated to use with adults, and that necessarily has modified its meaning. Said to an adult the meaning is not the same as said to a child. Context and emphasis are critical components of the expression of meaning, yet there are few ways to denote them on the page.

    One just has to know from experience For that reason, long experience of being read to and of reading aloud ("with expression") is needed to mature students' comprehension of silent reading.

    I like the phrase "There you go" in the sense that the mulcher meant it. I think I shall adopt it — if I can remember it in time in the quick shifts of live conversation. (I'm a slow thinker.) To my ear, "There you go" conveys an inviting friendliness, a good-humored openness, sunny acceptance, undoctrinaire inclusiveness — indispensable attitudes for the shopping season.

    Richard Nunley is a regular Eagle contributor. Window-

    Each phrase is slightly different in what it conveys — an echo of an earlier decade or level of gentility.


    Letter From Portland