"I tried to call you."
How many times have you heard that one? It is annoying enough when friends say it but when I hear it in a professional context, I have to repress my instinct to pounce. With the greatest respect to my fellow showbiz people, actors and casting directors are especially guilty of recycling that excuse over and over again (all right, all right, dah'lings – not ALL actors and casting directors - but a fair percentage).
You leave a message, asking to be rung back. You wait. You wait some more. With what is left of your ground up patience, you pick up the 'phone. You hope against hope to hear one of the following:
1. "Oh, hi! I'm so sorry I haven't returned your call, I've been seriously ill. I'm only just recovering from a deadly strain of penguin 'flu. The doctor said the virus can be transmitted by 'phone. I didn't want to put you at risk."
2. "Hello? Who? I'm afraid I am suffering from amnesia. The doctors say I hit my head on the steps of Joe Allen's – or was it The Ivy? – last Friday. What's your name again? I apologise, I don't remember."
3. The colleague/ PA of the person you are calling, "Hello. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid So-and-So isn't with us anymore. I know, it's deeply sad. The shock of the Arts Council cuts was too much to bear. They said our company appealed mainly to middle-aged, middle-class, educated, BBC Radio 4 listening, RP speaking audiences. They said an example just had to be made."
What you do NOT want to hear, is:
1. "Oh, Hi! How are you?" in a casual tone, with no mention whatsoever of your message.
2. "Oh, sorry, I didn't call you back – I've been very busy." (Is he/she implying you are not?)
3. "Sorry, I didn't quite understand your message." (Then why the hell did he/she not call for clarification?)
4. "Sorry, I've been away." (On a desert island where it was impossible to access voicemail?)
But what you REALLY do not want to hear, under any circumstance, is:
"I tried to call you", or its variation "I tried calling you".
Definition of the verb 'to try' (Past Simple tried, Past Participle tried) provided by the Concise Oxford Dictionary (Tenth Edition): (1) make an attempt or effort to do something.
Given this premise, we assume that the person has gone as far as dialling your number. However, given the fact that you have a call waiting device and voicemail, anyone can easily contact you. Therefore, when the person says, "I tried to call you" they clearly attempted to get to the telephone but something thwarted them mid-process, preventing them from actually dialling your number. I am keen to know what it was.
"Hello. Did you get the message I left you, last week?"
"Oh, yes, sorry... I tried to call you..."
"Did you trip on your way to the 'phone?"