Human Beans

When I was a child--and who among us doesn’t anticipate delightful tales of the youthful days of the charming gentleman inscribing these words?--I was enthralled by the fairy tale of Jack Spriggins and the Beanstalk.

So much of my later life was shaped by accidents of the ear, first performed when I was young and could barely see from myopic but beautifully and enviably fully-lashed blue eyes, and such is the amusing case here.

“Beans talk?” I piped in my adorable, little voice. “What do beans say?”

The question seemed plausible since the conversations over my head in those days often included mention of “human beans,” of which I was, apparently, one.

I was greeted with a stony silence and distant silver stare (courtesy of stormy daylight reflected from the paired round lenses of spectacles, which, as I mentioned before, I myself could have profitably employed).

“Not beans. Beings.”

And that was my first encounter with a word I now regard not only as useless but as outright dangerous, misleading, and deceitful as a conniving swindler selling magic beans to remarkably cute but naive little boys.

Here, in my seventh decade, still outstandingly sprightly and fresh-faced, I have reached the conclusion that the word being should be evaded as skillfully and silently as a boyish thief might wish while purloining the treasures of a snoring, cloud-dwelling giant.

Thus I have advised my students, and so I suggest to you, that every use of being can and should be avoided in writing.

Beginning with “human beings,” humans is enough and more elegant although people will certainly serve. And, after all, shouldn’t humans be doing?

No writer needs the construction “If I am being honest” unless said dimwit is actually admitting, not to being a liar, but to lying. Honestly is enough, and most likely, too much.

And as for that ugly, contrived contraption often jammed at the start of syntax, and by this, I mean being that, all you need, to misquote the Beatles, is since. Although, however, will do in a pinch.

A word like being confuses even on an existential level as in Jean-Paul Sartre’s title Being and Nothingness. And he wore glasses although his vision was a bit split. As for The Unbearable Lightness of--somebody stop me!

Everyone must display the stolen and discarded treasures of a lifetime, and being is mine, a silver harp snatched from the sky, now playing itself tunelessly, harmlessly alone and unheard in my backyard.

Eric Shaffer