Posted by: Jack Henry | April 18, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Disposal

Dear Editrix,

“I’m at your disposal.” What are you possibly gonna do to me? What the heck does that mean?

Marty in Monett

Dear Marty,

Thank you for making me laugh. What am I gonna do to you? “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?” (Okay, no more Taxi Driver, it gets heavily censored from here.)

What a good question about this odd phrase. I found a little something on Daily Writing Tips about it. I personally don’t think “I am at your disposal” sounds very nice, even when is intended to be a polite thing to say. Here’s what Maeve Maddox has to say about it (click the link for the full article):

Some speakers, perhaps because of their familiarity with the word disposal in connection with trash, seem to have trouble with the polite idiom “at your disposal.”

For example, I saw this comment on a Yahoo forum: “If you are at their disposal, it is derogatory and demeaning.”

Disposal and its different forms descend from Latin disponere, “to set in different places, to arrange.” The verb has more than one meaning, including the following:

· to place or arrange things in a particular order

· to make fit or ready

· to make arrangements

· to get rid of

The noun disposal can mean the action of disposing of something. In the expression “at one’s disposal,” it means “the power or right to dispose of, make use of, or deal with as one pleases.” The notion that the person “at one’s disposal” is “under the command of another” is doubtless the reason for objections to the expression by literalists.

Language has its polite conventions, and most people can tell the difference between convention and sincerity.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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