But I'm pretty sure that if someone doing a telephone survey asked me whether I use special words, never mind special gestures and intonations, when conversing alone with my husband, I'd say, "Of course not," and hang up. I would be lying, yes, but not without reason. I would be maintaining a human being's inalienable right to privacy. And I would be upholding the honorable tradition of the Samoan teenagers who lied shamelessly to Margaret Mead, probably because they found it shameless of her to be asking about intimate things they did when no one else was around.
Julian and I, I'll admit, have not resolved every difficulty that has arisen in our life as a couple, but I do think that by now we've got the basic language problems aced. Thus we are able to communicate with each other more subtly, with more nuance, than we can with anyone else. For instance:
I'm not an early riser, but at six on a recent morning, my dear pet forgot this, as he does surprisingly often, and tried to start a conversation with me.
I said, "I want to go back to sleep, Julian."
And he replied, "Don't you call me that!"
Barbara Wallraff writes language columns for the Atlantic Monthly and King Features syndicate. Her most recent book is Your Own Words, and you can bring language problems to her at www.wordcourt.com.