Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Can't Wait" vs "Looking Forward to It"

Semantics are incredibly interesting to me...especially when I come across a phrase that I view as meaning one thing, only to find that others view it differently.  Let me back up a little bit.  For about the last 2 years I have been working as an English as Second Language (ESL) teacher in our local school district.  If you have ever learned to speak another language you may know that truly being fluent in a language goes far beyond knowing the label for a variety of objects and how to ask where the bathroom is.  Part of my role as an ESL teacher is to teach not only to teach children the labels for the objects around them and basic conversational English, but also the morphemes that can help them to predict the meaning of a new word, syntax so that they can combine these new words properly to create a sentence that adequately expresses their thoughts, and the semantics/pragmatics of the English language that will allow them to truly become fluent.  So given all of this, I have spent a lot of time in the last 2 years paying attention to how we use our language. 

So back to "can't wait" and "looking forward to it"...

I have always viewed these two phrases to mean basically the same thing, but with different levels of excitement.  If I am excited about something I might use "can't wait" and if I am mildly excited for something (or just being nice), I will use "looking forward to it".  Up until recently I thought everyone thought about these sayings the same way that I did...but then I learned that there is another layer of meaning to them.  Let me explain...

When I was pregnant with S I would say something like, "I can't wait to meet this little guy" and many people would respond with, "Enjoy being pregnant because...".   After S was born I would say things like, "I can't wait till he crawls (or insert any milestone)" and people would respond with, "don't rush him" or "cherish these moments now because they go by so fast".  It wasn't until recently that I began to realize that when you say that you "can't wait" for something, people assume that this must mean that you are somehow not cherishing the current moment and want it over as soon as possible which for me was definitely not the case.  I am loving every moment with S, but that doesn't mean I don't look ahead and think about what it will be like as he gets older.  Any way, I guess it makes sense given the word choice, but how many times have you used "can't wait" for something that you could actually wait for, you were just excited?  Exactly.

So I tried an experiment.  Instead of saying "can't wait", I began saying that I am "looking forward to ___".  Amazingly people responded to this type of statement differently.  Most frequently people would respond by agreeing that ___ is a great stage.  A few people said that they were surprised how much they loved each new stage as their child approached it, that there wasn't a bad stage in raising a baby and so much to look forward to as a parent.  It seems people didn't view my "looking forward to it" as me saying that I disliked my current stage, but that I was also happy about ___ stage too.  Crazy!

So who knew that these two little phrases would have this hidden meaning to them (at least when it comes to parenting)??  I sure didn't, but I find it fascinating that this extra layer exists.

Mommy C


Sharon D. said...

When I was in high school, we were not allowed to use "can't wait". According to Miss Stewart,my honors English teacher, the correct phrasing was "can hardley wait" because it was obvious that you could wait but that it was going to be hard. To this day, I use the "can hardley wait". OMG something did stick from high school.

Post a Comment