They Say
Off The Wall, November 3, 2010

While visiting my son recently in Pittsburgh, I happened to pick up a magazine and began reading one of the stories. In the second sentence of the first paragraph, the author began his sentence using two words that really surprised me. The phrase went like this – “They said” Ronald Reagan was responsible for the expression ‘Evil Regime…’”

A number of questions came to mind.

First, who were “they”? I realize that every author has license as to how he is going to write something, but is that a legitimate way to begin a sentence? In that same paragraph, he also started another sentence that way. Does he know who “they” are?

When my father was alive, those were two words that always troubled him. He would often come to me and question, “Just who are “they” when a particular statement was made? I guess his comments led me to at least being aware of my future conversations and writings and being clearer about stating something or other.

Just a little bit of trivia, my dad came to this country from Germany when he was 30. He learned the language while being a resident. As a result, he became very meticulous as to his speech and would question anything that he was unsure about. This was one phrase that always bothered him.

The other day, a friend and I were returning from one of the larger department stores in the area. As usual, we carried on a conversation and really had much to say about nothing. Somehow we got on the subject of the birth of Jesus Christ when I made the remark, “You know, I think Our Lord was born in June,” with which he said, “That’s what they say.”

I began to giggle and eventually laugh out loud. Maybe, I was being rude, I don’t know. Acting that way was not kind, but I didn’t mean to cause question in his mind as to my actions. It came at such a perfect time as I was preparing to sit down and write this column and he helped lay the foundation for my commentary.

Minutes later, I apologized, and explained the reason for my outburst.

When you think about it, these two words have become as common as Mom’s apple pie. How many times in the course of our conversations do we use those two words without ever so much as thinking what we are saying.

“They say” blondes have more fun. Don’t think so. Not anymore than any other women. “They say” women are bad drivers. If I could, I would pull more driver’s licenses from men compared to females. I don’t witness women squealing tires, driving erratically and speeding past my house on Ligonier Street. They are all guys.

“They say” motorcyclists are stupid when they ride without helmets. A little clarification would help here. The actions of motorcyclists are stupid, but the people who enjoy riding these machines should definitely not be characterized as such.

How often have we heard while listening to popular music, the lyrics expressed in song –“They say” this is love. I wonder if the lyricist really knows the definition of the subject.

Here’s another. “They say” a picture is worth a thousand words. That reminds me of a little story.

While in college, I took an English class led by one of the finest professors I experienced as a student of higher learning. As I recall, he handed out books that had nothing but pictures in it. Daily, he would say, “Turn to page __ and write a story as to what you are seeing.” We did as told. The next day, each of us read our compositions aloud to the class. Being that there were approximately 30 students, I have no doubt in my mind that the saying is true – “They say” a picture is worth a 1000 words (or more, as far as that goes).

Upon entering church one morning, I was welcomed by a parishioner who was outside the church. Anyone who is familiar with my habits knows that I am not one to walk past someone and not say something. My comment – “They say” all roads lead to Rome. Who were “they?” Can’t tell you. But worshipping God, “They say” that’s the ultimate.” As far as that goes, you can count me in as one of “they!”


- Paul J. Volkmann
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