It's funny how one little word can make or break a sentence, a thought, or even an entire legacy.
Allow me to backtrack a bit.
I was chatting with one of my best pals, Howland's own Joanna Dascenzo, the other day and she was telling me how her 10-year-old son Michael is completing a report on John Quincy Adams.
When she asked him to tell her something of what he'd learned about the sixth U.S. president, he said, "He was a really good guy because he fought for slavery and everything," said Mike.
"Oh, sweetie, you mean against. He fought against slavery," corrected his mom.
"Yeah, that's what I said," Michael tossed back.
"No, honey, you said for, not against," Joanna reasoned.
"It's the same thing," he argued.
Yes, yes, it is ... except that it's the exact opposite.
But it was just one tiny little word - how on earth could it change the whole darned meaning?
Hmpf. I'm with you, Mike; that's kind of whack.
It's sort of like that time my little Nonna, who has since passed away, was trying to ask me something in Italian.
"Oh, that's cool, Patty, I didn't know you understand Italian!" said my impressed pal Michelle as I shook pepper onto my grandmother's salad, per her request. Or, uh, so I misunderstood.
Because, as I explained to my friend Michelle, I don't really, truly understand Italian, but generally can make out the basic idea of what someone is saying when they're speaking in my father's native tongue.
But then again, sometimes that one little word'll getcha, even if it's not in English. OK, especially if it's not in English, for those of us who are predominantly mono-lingual.
"No, no, too much pepper!" said my little grandmother as I dumped a half a shaker of pepper on her unsuspecting greens. Before I knew it, she was turning up a sneezy nose at her suddenly sour salad.
I suppose one itsy bitsy word can really screw things up, more or less.
Achoo and more hmpf.
And sometimes the trouble is all for naught. Take, for instance, the time I was supposed to bring dessert for a dinner in honor of my mother-in-law's birthday.
I was Kerry's new girlfriend at that time and was desperately trying to make a good impression on his family. So, I asked my now sister-in-law what I could do to help with the fete.
What I had heard on my end of the phone was, "Would you want to bring a cake? Be sure it says 'Happy Birthday, Grandma.'"
The cake? Oh boy, that seemed like a lot of pressure for Janey-Come-Lately - I didn't want to mess it up.
So, I made sure to take heed in Kim's last bit of direction, which I interpreted as "just chocolate."
Of course, everyone loves chocolate! No problem. I'll get a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and be the belle of the ball, I thought.
And that, my friends, is how I got caught by the not.
"Ooh, no, I said NOT chocolate, as in, anything but chocolate. My Mom hates chocolate," said Kim giving me a sympathetic hug.
Ugh. Hmpf doesn't even begin to cover it, people.
So, did I make an impression on Mrs. Kimerer? You bet. Was it a good one? Well, let's just say the answer is a three letter word that rhymes with "dot."
Oh well, at least it didn't stop Kerry from asking me that all-important four-word phrase.
And, as for my one little word of an answer - that seems to be working out pretty well nearly 17 years later.
Kimerer is a Tribune Chronicle columnist. Contact her at email@example.com.