What part of ISH do you NOT understand?

ish-image-largeby Scott Saalman

Call me ish.

Actually don’t.

I hate the ish.

Nix the ish.

Ish, as in, say, when my friend, Angela, texted me for coffee.

I texted: Time?

She texted: 9-ish.

I texted: Gr8.

She texted: See you then.

Panic set in. Nine-ish. How was I supposed to interpret her ish? It was her first ish issuance to me. People interpret the ish differently. What was her ish sweet spot?

I didn’t want to be late, but I didn’t want to appear over-eager either — though 9 anything is a long wait for the morning’s first coffee.

What was 9-ish to her? 9:05? 9:10? How about 9:35? But wouldn’t 9:35 actually be 9:30-ish? The margin of error for an ish is mind-boggling for a borderline anal-retentive person like me, the ish being a barometer for yet another tear in society’s fabric when it comes to basic modern manners.

I clicked Debrett’s Everyday Etiquette to see if there was a universal standard regarding ish etiquette, but the only related topic I found pertained to punctuality in general.

According to Debrett’s, “Failing to be punctual is the height of bad manners because it disregards the value of other people’s time … Conversely, being punctual always scores bonus points. You will come across as someone who cares about other people, and is efficient, organized and reliable.”

I’m always on time (or early). If something is set for 9, I’m there at 8:50 or 8:55. So, when someone uses the ish on me, my brain’s punctuality wires short circuit.

How long can you stretch an ish? Does 9:50 fit into the realm of 9-ish? 9:50 would make more sense being ish-10. A pre-ish versus a post-ish. I guess I’m more of a pre-ish kind of guy.

Being asked to arrive 9-ish means, for me, trying to determine what arriving on time or early really means. Would a 9 o-clock arrival for a 9-ish appointment make me appear too enthusiastic if 9-ish is meant to mean 9:20 or 9:25? Plus, the coffee shop workers might think I’m loitering. I don’t loiter. And even if I did arrive, at say, 9:10 for the meet-up, I’d still be anxious because it would feel like I’m being late even though I’m actually being early. That’s because I’m an old-school, top-of-the-hour or bottom-of-the-hour kind of guy. (For the record, I prefer the top of the hour. I mean, come on . . .)

Meeting for coffee used to be easy. “What time? 7:30. Cool, I’ll see you at 7:30.” Nothing to misinterpret there. If you’re early, you know it. If you’re on time, you know it. If you’re late, you know it. The ish put the kibosh on this.

Is the ish yet another sign that we are indeed in the Age of Apathy? What if astronauts started using the ish? “Houston, we will be docking with the International Space Station 6-ish.” I don’t think that would fly.

Perhaps the cable companies indirectly created this whole ish mess. They’ve been giving us the ish attitude for decades without even uttering the word ish once. “OK, we’ll have a technician come by sometime between 1 and 4, so you better be there,” causing us to frantically reschedule our kidney dialysis appointments and funeral showing of gramps just so we can get that extra 200 channels.

I best be careful about complaining about the ish. It, like anything else, could get worse.

She texts: Coffee?

I text: Time?

She texts: Monday-ish?

Thus, the end of social interaction as we know it.

Anyway, all this ran through my mind after Angela scheduled a 9-ish coffee break. I pondered texting back to clarify her ETA, but the ish, despite its vagueness to me, seemed so certain and concrete in Angela’s text message that I was reluctant to not appear “with it” when it came to the ish. As much as I hated the ish, I still wanted to appear hip with Angela’s ish, to fit in, to be hip-ish. And maybe if our ishes meshed well enough I’d be promoted to a more synchronized set time in the future.

I decided that showing up at 9:05 would be an OK arrival time — late in my mind, but still punctual for ishers like Angela. But, alas, I arrived only to find her already at a table enjoying her coffee. She arrived at 8:55, making her a pre-ish person and me late-ish. So much for bonus points. Had she hoped to finish her coffee and leave before my arrival? Oh, how I hate the ish. Debrett’s, we have a problem.


Will Read and Sing For Food’s next performance is at 7 p.m. Thursday 7at Klubhaus 61. It will raise money for Rotary International’s efforts to end polio worldwide. Guest reggae musician is Zion.

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