Answer Man

What in the world does ‘situations wanted’ mean?

Q: This has been bugging me for some time so I finally had to ask your opinion. Your paper’s classified ads has a section 21, “Situations Wanted.” To me “Situations Wanted” means you are LOOKING for a situation which needs filling. However, most of your ads are placed by people who need help, not those looking for a place to show their skills. I would welcome a correction if I am on the wrong track.

B.J., of New Athens

A: Your question reminded me of a recent Clorox advertisement in which a young boy in a bathroom is frantically trying to undo his stubborn belt so he can answer the pressing call of nature. In desperation, he finally yells, “Mom, we have a situation!”

So although it sounds like a classic Charlie Brown wishy-washy answer, I would argue you can interpret the term both ways. Rather than strictly a synonym for “job,” the word “situation” is more vague. One definition in Webster’s is simply “a combination of circumstances at any given time.” So as a worker, you want a situation in which you can serve as a nanny, landscaper, etc. But I as a homeowner also want to bring about “a combination of circumstances” in which someone will care for my child or rake my yard.

Two respected dictionaries seem to agree with my fence-straddling position. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “Situations Wanted” is “the name of the pages in a newspaper, website, etc., where people looking for jobs advertise themselves.” But the Oxford Dictionary defines it as a “list of jobs offered (or sought), especially in a newspaper.” I found it interesting that they used “offered” first.

So, it may be a case of to-may-to, to-mah-to. Actually, I’d prefer calling the whole thing off. How often does anyone use “situation” in this sense these days? It’s chiefly British and, I would argue, relatively archaic. I’d vote to end this situation right now and use more precise terms like “Help Wanted” or “Skills Offered.”

Today’s trivia

“Green Grow the Lilacs” flopped on Broadway after 64 performances in 1931. Yet what monster hit show would it spawn 12 years later?

Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: Early in the first season of “The Andy Griffith Show,” Elinor Donahue — fresh from her long stint as daughter Betty on “Father Knows Best” — moved into Mayberry as the town’s new pharmacist. Sparks were supposed to fly when she met Andy and his young son, Opie, but their relationship fizzled like a soggy firecracker. Their chemistry never clicked, so the pretty 23-year-old Donahue was allowed to walk away from her three-year contract after 11 episodes.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer