I am, as I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before, a high school English teacher. As such, I have a greater-than-average awareness of language, punctuation, and correct word choice. And although I try not to be an utter grammar Nazi about it, there are some things people say that are so blatantly incorrect that it makes me want to slap them with a cold fish.
This will undoubtedly be a series.
Today’s episode: “You have two choices…”
I hear this all the time. On TV. In the movies. Around the halls of my school. And frequently said by people who are, in fact, very intelligent. Despite this, they go forth with this horribly incorrect phrase.
- “You have two choices… live or die.”
- “You have two choices… study hard and pass, or slack off and fail.”
- “You have two choices… chocolate with Bavarian Cream or the engine block of a 1972 Studebaker.”
In all of these situations, the person being spoken to is told he must make two choices. But he doesn’t. He has one choice. He has two options. If a person is being told he must choose between life or death, there is only that one choice — life or death. The choice is the action — the single action, mind you — of selecting between the available options. This is true no matter how many options a person has.
- “You have six choices… life, death, a guided tour of the Wonka chocolate factory, electrolysis for that thing on your lip, a package of AAA batteries and a partridge in a pear tree.”
This person still only has one choice to make, because he is being given the option of choosing between these six items. Also, the person giving him this option is either patently insane or the host of the strangest version of Let’s Make a Deal in history. Which I admit may be the same thing.
Here’s a case where a person actually has two choices:
- “You have two choices… save the baby’s life or allow him to grow up to be Hitler. Also, do you want fries with that?”
In this situation, the person being presented with the choice has two decisions to make. Will he allow an innocent baby to die even knowing he will eventually become history’s greatest monster? Plus — hey, fries? These are the sorts of moral implications that can weigh on a person for the rest of his life, especially if you start to consider such vital factors as “curly,” “battered,” or “cajun-style.”
But these four options come with two choices, not four, as some people will undoubtedly say.
Here’s an easy way to remember. When facing the situation, ask yourself how many decisions a person has to make. “Cake or pie” is one decision, which means one choice, which really means no choice because pie almost always wins. Unless it’s ice cream cake.
- The number of choices is equal to the number of decisions, not the number of options.
- Increasing the number of options has no effect on the number of choices that must be made.
- Pie always trumps non-ice cream cake.