Monday, November 23, 2009

The following customer.

Does anyone know when this started? It used to be that you would stand in line waiting until you were at the front and you heard; "Next customer, please step down", or "Next!"

Sure, it was getting a little monotonous, but it was fine. We were all used to it and it was pretty much correct. Recently though a new breed of teller, cashier (and though I've never been in one), fast food server, is using the phrase "The following customer."

I'm sorry, but this just grates on me. The 'following anything' should be followed by a specific list of people, or items, to whom or which the speaker is referring. "Would the following students please report to detention; Joe Schmoe, Jane Plain,..."

OK, some may make the argument that this is just as correct as the old way. It really isn't. Sure, 'following' can be used as an adjective to mean the net in a sequence: "We went to the zoo the following day." But that only works for me when it is an accepted sequence. Clearly the 'following' in this instance refers specifically to a preceding day which is referenced in an earlier remark.

To refer to someone as 'the following customer' raises the question: following who or what? If you are standing at the front of the line you aren't actually following anyone.

Of course I have never actually corrected anyone for doing this. Well, I tried once. It became evident very quickly the person in question had no idea what I was talking about. They may have been a native English speaker but I may as well have been speaking Swahili.

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