Dear Jerry:

Repeatedly over the last few months, I have been hearing an old excuse. To be exact, I am told that so-and-so is “having a bad day.” Here are four examples.

Recently, I complained to the supervisor at a department store when an employee was inefficient and discourteous. The reply from that employee’s supervisor was the employee must be “having a bad day.” The supervisor proceeded to explain that the employee was usually in better form.

At a local government agency, I had the “pleasure” of dealing with a lethargic clerk who would not give me a straight answer. The manager said the clerk was “having a bad day.”

On the top floor of my office where the accounts payable department is located, a staff person was so unresponsive that I decided to mention it when I saw the accounts payable manager. Again, it was conveyed that the staff person is “having a bad day.”

Then, at a hospital emergency room, the intake person was totally inappropriate. Even factoring in the pressure of an emergency room, her attitude was disgraceful. I could not believe the person overseeing the E.D. replied to my criticism the same way. The E.D. spokesperson claimed the intake person must be “having a bad day.”

Each time I hear that expression, it seems like déjà vu all over again. And yes, I know you can improve the grammar in my last sentence. What do you think?

– Tina C., Newport News, Va.

Dear Tina:

On your peripheral point, the grammar is fine. It is redundant, though, to say “déjà vu all over again.”

On your main point, I agree. “Having a bad day” remains an annoying cliché. It has long been used in the consumer arena and many other environments. “Having a bad day” may be a “reason” for substandard behavior. It is not an “excuse.” This applies whether you are a customer in a department store, a citizen at a government agency, a worker eliciting information at your place of employment, a visitor in a hospital emergency room, or virtually anywhere else. In every situation to which you referred, people are being paid to complete their jobs correctly. Even unpaid volunteers should conform to high standards.

On one occasion or another, everyone experiences a “bad day.” Still, when we are responsible to other individuals, we must transcend that “bad day” and complete our tasks appropriately. It is not always easy. It is, however, necessary. Should the circumstances of the “bad day” be negative enough to make proper conduct impossible, then the individual experiencing the “bad day” should stay home.

Furthermore, when such individuals fail to stay home and instead subject other individuals to their poor performance, the people in charge should take action without any reference to “having a bad day.”

Jerry Romansky is a syndicated columnist. Readers are invited to write in English or Spanish: Ask Jerry, Post Office Box 42444, Washington DC 20015. E-mail and (because of spam situation) write the name of your newspaper in subject heading. Questions of popular interest are answered in the column. Unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.