Saturday, August 28, 2010

The power of speech

When in the company of some, I can put together string after string of coherent words without breaking a sweat.

When in the company of others, I’m a Bulgarian refugee in New York, lost in the subway and stabbing my finger at a map. “I here, yes?” Verbs hightail it down the road and my hands alternately swat flies or shape elaborate castles in the sky.

To be fair to myself, in most situations I fall somewhere between Winston Churchill and a mime in a paisley suit.

My best guess is, one’s degree of verbal dexterity is partly education, but mostly the proper application of gas to the brain, and the flooding thereof. And the latter welcomes us to the wonderful world of interjections, the conversational equivalent of the Maybelline zit concealer. The well-uh’s, but-um’s, okay-then’s, and you-know’s. Or my own personal favorites, the friends that have carried me seamlessly through many an awkward lapse: So-so-so-so and Doncha-see.

What’s weird (and this is not an interjection, I mean it is strange, odd), one of the most memorable things about a person is how they fill the conversational spaces between constructed thoughts. Long after someone is gone, you may not remember a hundred quotable things he or she said; instead, what sticks in the craw is the annoying way he would clear his throat and say “That begs the question…” Or years later, you may agonize over the fact you slept with someone who would buy some time with, "Be that as it may..."

I wonder if Shakespeare, in between his qualities of mercy and roses by any other names, would scratch his chin and say, "The thing about it is..." At least for a special someone, those may have been his last syllables of recorded time.

61 comments:

Mister Earl said...

Well, hmmm, I don't know, but it seems to me... I mean, if you rally look at it...

Really, I'm speechless...

But in the 7th grade I learned that "begs the question" means to assume a conclusion in an argument. It's a form of flawed logic. Now it's misused to mean "raises the question" or "calls forth the question." Oh it makes me wince every time. If there's a hell, people there use "begs the question" wrong in every other paragraph.

Gustavo Osmar Santos said...

Gustavo Osmar Santos
Estuvo AquĆ­...wonderfull.

Laurie said...

I see you slept with my ex boyfriend too!

Laurie said...

BTW, this rocks.

Bellis said...

The way I see it, this piece is so good, it's left me speechless, so I'll leave it to others with better- maintained gas-pumping systems to add their wit.

Shell Sherree said...

I find myself tongue-tied.

Susan C said...

I recently heard a preschooler start a sentence with "nevertheless."

Mister Earl said...

One summer I took US History from Sam Goldman. Sam was a wonderful teacher. He'd been a reporter in NY and he was passionate about US History. Sam taught at a high school several miles north of us, but a few of us kept in touch with him over the years. In fact, I've emailed him within the last few.

Tom Peterson sat in the front middle seat of Sam Goldman's class that summer. One day Sam noticed that Tom was keeping some kind of tally sheet in pencil on the top of his desk. You see, Sam had a habit of punctuating with "you see," and it was so prevalent that Tom decided to keep tract of them. That day, Tom had to admit to Sam and the class what he was tallying. He got a lecture from Sam that ended with, "How would you like it if I kept track of how many times you picked your nose?"

Paula said...

You've described a loss for words perfectly. No wonder I feel Eastern European most of the time.

My husband is part Cajun so he feels it's his birthright to invent words, very entertaining, never a dull moment.

"So on and so forth" makes me think of harming the person who says it and I will hold a grudge for all eternity.

"I don't know," well, that's a capital punishment offense.

TheChieftess said...

"it's the proper application of gas to the brain"...not enough gas to the brain here at this time of the morning...
I do remember being in Home Ec class in Jr. High...we all counted how many times Mrs. Nelson licked her lips per class...and keeping an eye on the level of cough syrup in Mrs. Hunt's bottle of said in her desk...
I guess I just ramble when I need to fill conversational space!!!

Anonymous said...

I knew someone who would take a loud and massive intake of breath when he was at a loss for words. That was even worse.

Pierre said...

I need to say this about that: another great piece, actually.

Jean Spitzer said...

Made me laugh. "somewhere between Winston Churchill and a mime in a paisley suit"

BANJO52 said...

Incisive! A Really a good study, AH. (I mean "study" in the nicest way).

AND DITTO WHAT EARL SAID. My God, these journalists, AT THE END OF THE DAY, do nothing but look for pet phrases to harp on for a decade. Can they be the best and the brightest?

My own cross to bear is the long preamble that says, "My point is not as dumb as it sounds, so bear with me." I interrupt myself that way and, often as not, forget my original point. Otherwise, I'm perfect.

Margaret said...

I always think I talk to much, so I'm worried now that you're thinking of me when you think of that person that fills all silences. It is me, isn't it? I'm the one. I'm the one who keeps going and going and talking and talking and talking and never shutting up and....

Margaret said...

I always think I talk to much, so I'm worried now that you're thinking of me when you think of that person that fills all silences. It is me, isn't it? I'm the one. I'm the one who keeps going and going and talking and talking and talking and never shutting up and....

Linda said...

At least you HAVE verbal skills, I have NONE and NEVEr under any circumstances EVER ask me for directions......EVER!!

altadenahiker said...

Margaret, you're one who amazes me with quick and agile verbal skills. But if you're ever at a loss, stay away from doncha-know -- I've got that copywrite and I'll bring you down.

Virginia said...

Margaret darlln, this is not about you, it's got me written all over it. I"m the southerner jabbing the map in the Paris Metro saying, 'I am here??" in my godawful French accent, wearing um.... well, you know.....um a paisley scarf. My epitaph will read: She Just Couldn't Shut ( T F ) Up.

Earl, guilty as charged.
V

PS And KB, you my friend have never been at a loss for words, very fine words. Like...I"m so, .......um loving everything you write, you know?

Rob said...

You ain't a kiddin'.

What tries my patience is talking to people who use the work like in just about every sentence. I would actually prefer a throat clear and or an um, er, or other form of stammering.

Example of an actual response. "So, like we went to the fair and like they bought like a dozen cheese curds and like we ate way too much like no kiddin'!"

Like I want to pull the rest of my hair like right out. There aught to be a law about teenagers. Ah well, I'm post 40 and heading for the curmudgeon stage of life.

Petrea said...

Margaret, I'm so glad it's you. I was afraid it was me.

"My best guess is, one’s degree of verbal dexterity is partly education, but mostly the proper application of gas to the brain, and the flooding thereof." I think stress also limits verbal dexterity. At least it does mine.

I'm usually okay with dead air. (Tell me if I'm misjudging myself.) It gives me a chance to check and see if I'm hunching my shoulders or clenching my teeth.

Laurie said...

I had to come back and read this. I just love it.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

is "fuck" an interjection?

altadenahiker said...

No PA, that's an intervention.

Mister Earl said...

"Fuck" could be a noun, or a verb, or as a gerund or past participle an adjective or adverb.

Reminds me of a Doonesbury cartoon where a guy goes into the army or something and he asks another guy, "How do I use the F-word?" To which the other guy replies, "Use it like a comma."

altadenahiker said...

Oh, I wish I'd said that. I mean fuck before Trudeau.

Mister Earl said...

We should just be glad Victor Borge never found out!

WV: fugsaids. Honest. "Fug" was a euphemism that Norman Mailer used in a novel, and the 60s band, "The Fugs" borrowed it.

Virginia said...

I watched some stupid HGTV show last night and the guy, who was a WRITER for an Emmy nominee show said LIKE at least 6 times in one sentence. It's all your fault KB, that now I"m like counting every like , oh well , it is what it is.

Pat Tillett said...

Great post...
I know just what you mean. My wife sometimes looks at me after I've said something, like "who are you?"

Trish said...

years ago, my grandmother and her friends wanted to stop saying "uhm" and "ah", to sound more intelligent. So several of them set out to correct one another. Instead of interrupting one another, when they heard someone in the group say "uhm" or "ah", they'd raise one finger (which finger you choose to use, is up to you...;-), so the speaker could know she had made an offense, but keep talking.

at one point, my grandmother and a friend nearly came to blows because they were just trying to have a conversation and one of the group kept raising her finger. I suspect it was an afternoon wine and cheese get together where after a glass, it was harder to avoid saying "uhm" or "ah" while the brain searched for the right word. I still lol to this day that these nice, gentle grandmotherly types nearly mussed their "dos" to beat one another over the finger, er, uhm, ah...well, you know what I mean...

wv: adingn...adingn, when your friend raises her finger to remind you that you said "uhm" 37 times in one sentence and you want to adingn her into the next county and break that pretty little finger off!

altadenahiker said...

That's hysterical, Trish, and would make a great short story. One of us should try her finger at it.

Anonymous said...

“er, uhm, ah...well,” “ try her finger at it” ....???

DAYo.

Marjie said...

I have to know exactly what I'm going to say, or I'm tongue tied. I don't do well at conversation. but I never use fillers, and about 3 years ago, I beat fillers out of my now 14 year old, by bellowing that I don't know what an "Um-ya-know" is! My dearly beloved? Well, he could talk the ears off anything. So I let him carry the conversation. But once I did brilliantly let loose at a high school assistant principal who called to chew me out about something one of my sons had done, and the fool made the mistake of raising his voice to me. I yelled right back, "Who the hell do you think you're addressing? I am not one of your students, and you do not have permission to yell at me. Behave civilly, or I will lodge a complaint with the school board, and notify the local paper of it, so other parents will know the caliber of man in charge of student discipline!" He shut up then. A rare verbal victory for me. I can, however, write quite eloquently when necessary, y'know?

BANJO52 said...

AH, do you bring out the clever in everybody or are they that clever to begin with? This is my second visit, and it's VERY entertaining. My thanks especially to Earl and Trish, although, Earl . . . an adverb? "Fuckingly"??? "Fuckly"???

On a heavier note, surely all this connects to stuttering and other speech problems, and surely Petrea's right about anxiety being relevant.

Will there be a Part Two?

Mister Earl said...

Banjo: "Will you fucking move your car out of my driveway?" (Not sure if that's an adverb, but it seems close.)

Mister Earl said...

Banjo: As part of an adverb: "Shirley talks too fucking much." As an adverb modifying an adjective: "Shirley is fucking beautiful."

Trish said...

AH...your finger or mine...oh wait...

and actually, that WAS the short version...think Mrs Cleaver & her friends breaking fingers off & swearing at one another...makes the whole story even funnier.

Banjo, when a friend was run over by a car while walking earlier this year, she was on a LOT of pain meds. At one point she ran off a string of fuck, fuck fuckingly, fuckity, fucking, fuck, fucks (I'm paraphrasing), that gave us a clue as to how much pain she was in.

stuttering...yeah, I win the bumper sticker on that one folks. which is why I do most of my work on a computer and my FB profile says don't call me, I hate the phone

altadenahiker said...

I'm shocked, shocked, to find several potty mouths on my blog. What the fuck am I going to do with you guys?

Mister Earl said...

Banjo and I are going to write a book on using the F-word. It will be called "Fucking English." You're welcome to be a contributor.

WV:smsereel = sado-masochism surreal or would that be cereal?

Trish said...

sorry AH, I went to that girls school over on Orange Grove...we learned it from the girls on Bellefontaine St up OG from us...despite the many years since I last wore one of those uniforms, I uh, well, *translate* such language quite well.

or, as one friend once said "Oh fuck, I said shit! Oh shit, I said fuck!"...;-)

Mister Earl said...

That's all well and good, but...

Petrea said...

Does anyone say "ahem" anymore?

Nobody, huh?

WV: distraud. I am distraud at your language, people. I never say those words except when I'm alone in my car. You can see me driving around town with the windows rolled up, yelling.

Susan Campisi said...

Ahem. Ummmm... my goodness. You guys are all a bunch of potty mouths.

Mister Earl said...

No, you see it's like this: we're linguists.

BANJO52 said...

Good lord, I thought it was already hall-of-fame funny here yesterday . . .

Earl, I stand corrected. Many adverbs skip the "ly" and cut straight to the chase, so why not F-bombs?

And PA, my apologies! It was YOU who opened the "F" door, the hallway to fricatives. Credit where credit is due, and just look what you have begot.

altadenahiker said...

Nah Banjo, these linguists don't need any help to get 'em started.

Paula said...

No effing way would we put any of this on Facebook...

Trish said...

Ahem......

@Earl...we're cunning linguists...;-)

@Banjo...fuckly?

@Paula...you obviously haven't seen my nephew and his posts on FB

wv: untitsy...I'm...not...even...going...to...start...on...this..one..lol

Mister Earl said...

@Trish Never crossed my mind.

@Paula Nor on Laurie's blog.

Paula said...

Trish, that's OK, my son's posts on FB are enough, they make me blush which occurred to me as I read these newest posts, you would think this was a private forum. = : }

Trish said...

@Earl...uhm, yeah, like, riiight.

@Paula...I sometimes call my young friends on FB on their language...then again, ref back to my private school education and uhm, well, yeah...I've been known to string a few together.

and ergo, why I don't link my posting login with anything else...;-)

ok, the wv's are just ripe...aschol...really? untitsy and aschol...good lord, Earl, we could go on for months with these!

Mister Earl said...

Untitsy is a classic. "Well," said William, I won't say she was flat chested. Let's just say she was 'untitsy' and leave it at that.

And now my WV is: ovolo. "She was untitsy, but boy could she ovolo."

TheChieftess said...

I don't think I've stopped laughing since this D%$# F(*&^%(* thing started!!!

Trish said...

She may have been untitsy, and sure she could ovolo...but her ex husband was a huge aschol.

wv: hercup...when she drank a little to forget her aschol of an ex husband, she got the hercups, tho since she was flat chested, it didn't matter much

Paula said...

wv bollik

When she drank a little to forget her aschol of an ex husband, she got the hercups, tho since she was flat chested, it didn't matter much. Bolliks! she said.

Mister Earl said...

Aschol = asshole + (or influenced by) alcohol.

Being untitsy, hercups went unnoticed.

TheChieftess said...

Geeze Louise!!! If ever there was a comment trail that created spewing...this is it!!! LOL...LOL...LOL...

Trish said...

Chieftess---glad we could help! tho, this word verification thing really is prodding us all!


wv: gheteropa---with the drunk assh*le of an ex husband commenting on hercups being untitsy, she decided to gheteropa to hang his ass from the nearest tree...cheaper than divorce!

Mister Earl said...

Oh, I thought gheteropa was an STD.

altadenahiker said...

I should never let you guys take this car out at night.

Trish said...

@Earl--I think that std can be cured with a long course of antibiotics now.

@AH...lol...ya think? wait, c'mon, can't we have the keys TONIGHT? pleasepleasepleaseplease? ;-)

wv: igaspi...AH was igaspi'd seeing us continue on in these comments about her ex