Am sitting around my house in my bathrobe on a Sunday afternoon. Doorbell rings.

I consider not answering it; almost nobody who comes to my door unexpectedly is someone I want to talk to. But moments later, there's a series of sharp urgent knocks, and someone says something loudish that I can't quite make out outside my door.

So I go to the door and open it. A young woman thrusts a flyer at me. She observes my bathrobe and dishevelment and says, “I'm sorry to interrupt you. . . .”

When I don't respond for a moment, she goes on: “I'm sure you're the man of the house?” I'm not quite sure how to respond to that. She starts in on explaining the flyer, which she's still holding out to me; it seems they're a carpet steam-cleaning company, and she's out drumming up business. I finally get my brain in gear and tell her, politely, that I'm not interested.

I'm writing this up not to complain—she didn't really do anything wrong—so much as to share my amusement. She was really in a hurry—I think it was about two seconds between the doorbell and the knocking. And I especially loved the half-question “I'm sure you're the man of the house?” What was the purpose of that? If I had said no, would she have asked to speak to him, because only the man of the house can make carpet-cleaning decisions? Was she phrasing it that way so as to avoid offending me by being unsure whether I was the man of the house, while making it sound like a question just on the off chance that I wasn't? Was she thinking that perhaps I might instead be the woman of the house? Who uses phrases like “man of the house” in the Bay Area these days, anyway?

(Whenever I ask a rhetorical question like that, it turns out that—surprise!—not everyone shares my views. So it may well turn out that some of you who live in the Bay Area consider phrases like “man of the house” perfectly reasonable and common and polite. In which case I apologize for my surprise about it; it's just a phrase that to my ear sounds kind of old-fashioned. But I'm certain that the woman at the door meant no disrespect by it.)

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