Comments: I am a fan of "This Is Spinal Tap", but no, I am not stalking Christopher Guest; why do you ask?

I was recently interviewing a spokesman for Spencer Gifts, and she kept using the word "guests." At one point, I interrupted her and said, "Guests? You mean, customers?" And she said, "Yes, we call our customers guests." And I figured that once we acknowledged the language difference, she would revert to the term "customers," which is clearly more normal and understandable. But she didn't, which irritated me. No need to talk in code with me, lady. Guests are people you have over for dinner; customers are people you sell a book of dick jokes to, which is essentially all Spencer Gifts is good for. We both know that.

But I guess she'd get in trouble if she were quoted in a newspaper using the word "customer." Whatever, she's just doing her job. Like the Nazis.

Posted by jason at February 12, 2005 03:06 PM

The use of "guest" is a slow, annoying trend. It started with a few places like Target, and slowly infiltrates its way into company policies and mottos. It may have been cutting edge at first--some sort of feel-good, psychologicial trick. But other places have picked it up, and it's no longer new.

And it doesn't just show up here. In some cases, there's trained behavior to correct tiny details. In one former job, I worked on phones for a company that had outlet stores in different cities. We were instructed to refer to these external stores inclusively as "us" and "our" and not "them," even if the store was a third-party retailer. I still used "them." (Nothing ever came from it, and nobody ever got fired for saying the wrong word, but it bugs me still.)

At least it's not a situation where a company insists on their style and grammar in official documentation. Worst of these is capitalization where it's not needed. Banfield, the Pet Hospital is an example. Though there's a lot of capitalization of terms used as registered trademarks, they insist on capitalizing Pet everywhere printed.

Posted by Maelstrom at February 12, 2005 05:13 PM

Interesting. I look forward to hearing more and more awkward and/or inappropriate phrases to summon Starbucks customers to the counter:

"Subsequent patron?"
"Ensuing imbiber?"
"Yo, get your ass up to the counter, slowbie!"

Posted by Francis at February 13, 2005 09:57 AM

I rarely frequent Starbuck's (or its B&N franchise, which is the closest such thing within an hour's drive from my home), but when I do I take a certain perverse satisfaction out of explicitly ordering a "small" or "medium" sized drink. The clerks used to try to "correct" my terminology, giving me an excuse to get snarky; I think a couple years ago the order came down from on high to just roll with customers who didn't speak Starbuckese though, and I haven't gotten corrected in a while.

Posted by David. at February 13, 2005 02:25 PM