‘Do You Want Better Grammar With That?’

Film, Observatory

This story reaches me from OUPBlog via Mike Cane. Apparently an English professor was ejected from a Starbucks on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for not deploying Starbucks’ mandatory corporate-speak. The story immediately lit up the internet, turning her into an instant celebrity. Lynne Rosenthal cared so much about good English that she finally stood up to the coffee giant and got run off the premises by New York’s finest for her troubles.

According to the New York Post, Rosenthal, who teaches at Mercy College and has an English Ph.D. from Columbia, ordered a multigrain bagel at Starbucks but “became enraged when the barista at the franchise” asked, “Do you want butter or cheese?” She continued, “I refused to say ‘without butter or cheese.’ When you go to Burger King, you don’t have to list the six things you don’t want. Linguistically, it’s stupid, and I’m a stickler for correct English.” When she refused to answer, she claims that she was told, “You’re not going to get anything unless you say butter or cheese!” And then the cops came.

The management countered that the customer then made a scene and swore at the barista, and police who were called to the scene insist that no one was ejected from the coffee shop. Of course there’s no point in having a good at the poor kid serving, while the Barista in turn should have waived the rule. Full story here.

22 comments on “‘Do You Want Better Grammar With That?’”

  1. Kai Savage says:

    This is indicative of the entire service industry nowadays. It always reminds me of Little Britain’s “computer says no”! Employees have been so drilled in the precise cues that they are provided with that they can’t use logic to override circumstances that don’t fit the model. My wife was talking to someone on an NHS help line recently and was asked “can the patient speak?” “I am the patient.” She replied. “Please madam just answer the question!”

  2. Helen Martin says:

    I didn’t know there was a rule. I have even got the coffee I wanted by asking for “small”. Perhaps our Starbucks people are more laid back. The NHS person was just silly, lockstepping instead of listening. Please examine Admin’s last sentence, though, and tell me what he means. Communication also requires clarity.

  3. I.A.M. says:

    I routinely am stunned at the inability to listen to customers when working in the ‘fast food’ industry. Every time I go to Burger King — which is hardly frequent, but this pattern about to be described is demonstrated without fail on every single occasion — I complete the details of my order with “and a Vanilla Shake”, which is then countered with “and what flavour of shake would you like?” Once I actually dared to say “I just told you”, but was met with a blank stare of incomprehension as though this was some sort of Zen riddle, so relented and repeated my request.

    One certainly does fall into patterns when doing the same thing over and over again with the public, and it’s certainly true that a broad number of the populace when entering a shop are complete morons when it comes to selecting the simplest items, but one would hope that the exceptional individual who states their order clearly and with details in place would actually get noticed.

    Granted, I’m asking for the impossible and am also astronomically intelligent so mere mortals cannot possibly be expected to rise to my level of competency.

    …the gits.

  4. Steve says:

    I heard a story – who knows if it’s true – about Winston Churchill’s response to someone who was getting on him about ending sentences with prepositions. His response was “Young man, that is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put!”

  5. BangBang!! says:

    I’m a bit British about coffee shops. A primo skinny latte just sounds daft and pretentious to me and it genuinely embarrasses me to ask for it. I do just say “A small skinny latte please” but even just the skinny bit sounds stupid. They used to repeat it back to me as “So that’s a primo skinny latte.” but they’ve lightened up a bit about it now. I seem to have gone off on one about it there but at over 2 squids a cup I feel entitled to vent a little bit.

  6. MrD says:

    Off topic:

    Mr. Fowler,
    I am a big fan of yours. I admire your work and highly appreciate your literary views. Please, let me know what is your opinion about Anne Rice’s writing style. Sorry for the off topic.

  7. admin says:

    Hi MrD – I enjoyed ‘Interview With A Vampire’ but her style became too laborious and pompous for me. I’m not much for cod-philosophies. Haven’t read anything recent though.

  8. Alan Morgan says:

    People rarely work in retail because they want to. Sometimes you just have to do what you need to to pay the rent. So in a chain you’ve got a manager being hassled by his boss to make sure his staff follow a set programme. The staff do it. If they could laugh, cast aside their apron and stalk out on a point of principle they would not be there in the first place. Cut them some slack. Whilst Rosenthal’s actions are jolly amusing I can’t help thinking that the staff were just in a world of ‘what is this cock’s problem?’. Trust me, they don’t care. They don’t respect such stands. Some probably think there are more important things to protest about. They just want to do whatever boring shit they have to with the minimum amount of sneering from Mr and Mrs Snooty.

  9. MrD says:

    Mr. Fowler, thank you for the quick answer. I’m engaged in an argument with a friend about the artistic merits of “Interview With A Vampire”. He thinks that Anne has a junky style, but I’m not so sure (he thinks that all writers of vampire fiction are just not worthy). The problem is that English is not our native language, so I need your professional opinion. May be her style is laborious and pompous, but is it really so bad? Thank you once more.

  10. admin says:

    Yes, it’s really bad. Overblown, lurid and trashy – but popular with young girls.

  11. Jeffrey Sebastian Sebastien Sril Srenton Hunt says:

    Apropos of nothing this scene reminds me of the Two Ronnies’ ice-cream parlour sketch. Stupid pedantic customer, just follow the rules or get outta da shop!

  12. Terenzio says:

    While the English Professor might have a point, had she wanted butter or cream cheese she would have said with butter or cream cheese, yet it’s only polite and common courtesy to answer someone when they ask you a question.

    For example, in the summer I usually order a Grande unsweetened iced coffee with milk. Sometimes I forget to say unsweetened, so they ask me sweetened or unsweetened. Do I take offense and refuse to answer? Of course, the folks at Starbucks are only doing their jobs. Besides, they are not mind readers.

    So my point is the person at Starbucks did absolutely nothing wrong. From this excerpt (I did not read the actual article) it looked like the professor overreacted. We are only human and do on occasion forget…I do when ordering my coffee sometimes. How did the person working at Starbucks know the professor simply forgot to mention she wanted butter or cream cheese? If anything is shows a conscientious worker doing their job properly i.e. making sure the customer gets exactly what they want. Most people do either have butter or cream cheese on their bagels. Those who have it plain are by far in the minority, so it was a fair question.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    and didn’t really have anything to do with grammar, did it? When faced with a wall full of choices I have a tendency to freeze and point, with a remark along the lines of “Uuuuh, ummm, one of those, please.”

  14. Sam Tomaino says:

    I agree with Terenzio. When I am ordering something and am asked (after I’ve already said it), if that is “for here or to go?”, I simply say it again. Working retail can be a bit stressful when you have a lot of customers all at once. Also, as Helen said, what does “grammar” have to do with it?

  15. Alan Morgan says:

    Grammer is only important to Gram’pa.

    Ba dum…


  16. Anne Hill Fernie says:

    Try asking for ‘chips’ in McDonald’s and see the looks you get………

  17. Steve says:

    Speaking of overblown, florid prose, IMHO, an accurate comparison – but frightening for Ms. Rice…..would be Anne Rice and Bulwer “It was a dark and stormy night” Lytton.

  18. Sam Tomaino says:

    Ah! Bulwer-Lytton! Did you know he was the one who wrote “The pen is mighiter than the sword.”? No, it’s not from the Bible or Shakepeare but from someone regarded as one of the worst successful writers of all-time! His “pen” wasn’t mightier than a “pen-knife.”

  19. Helen Martin says:

    I think I have Bullwer-Lytton’s “Queen Victoria around somewhere. Must look it out and see if he really is as bad as all that.

  20. Steve says:

    Trust me…he’s worse. Try “Zanoni”. Couldn’t even finish it. It’s supposed to be an “Occult Classic” – it’s classic alright.

  21. Steve says:

    As for him writing “The pen is mightier than the sword”….well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

  22. Helen Martin says:

    But Shakespeare did say in Hamlet “many wearing rapiers fear those with goose quills.” And I haven’t found my Bullwer-Lytton, perhaps I gave it away.

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