It is better to be an outcast, a stranger in one’s own country, than an outcast from one’s self. It is better to see what is about to befall us and to resist than to retreat into the fantasies embraced by a nation of the blind.
Chris Hedges

Monday, June 23, 2008

Language as Medium... Yes?

The Medium is the Message; especially in the context of public speaking. I first noticed it in the '80s, when women began taking their rightful place at the podium. The start of any comment began with, "umm". Umm's at the beginning of each comment or sentence created an illusion of deep contemplation - as if the speaker was sorting through millions of bits of information to find the right tidbit, irrespective of the carefully written script before them. I believe linguists call these 'interrupters'. In today's techno-speak we would describe it as 'insufficient ram'. It was a huge distraction as I often found myself counting the umm's, sometimes collaring the speaker afterwards to ask if they were aware they had said, "umm" 76 times in a two-minute talk. Usually these were pretty women with sensible haircuts, pinstripes and flat shoes.

The 'umm' was improved upon by the BBC, and replaced by the 'stutter". Each roundtable usually contained at least one person with a stutter. When asked to contribute, this type would begin with a crisp "yes, well" and launch into ten seconds of "ma, ma, ma, ma, ma, ma" before exploding in a set-piece run of genius - quick stop - ingest of breath - continue. This performance accompanied any and every bit. It was also a very clever way of cutting off or horning in on another panel member. Here, one pictured the befuddled genius in bow tie and mad haircut, twitching blinks, out-of-breath; at once blessed by God with a first rate intellect while on the other, limited by speech as the medium. No wonder aliens use ESP to communicate.

The latest verbal affectation is beginning to make me twitch in my seat. The newest thing is to say something, but instead of an umm or stutter at the beginning of each comment, you get the comment followed by a "Yes?" Gordon Ramsay uses this to great effect. As in, "This fucking soup is cold! - Yes?" Now lecturers and speakers everywhere are mesmerising audiences with a statement followed by a 'Yes?'. This new trend eliminates any thought that the speaker is unsure of their subject. It also creates the illusion that an opportunity is being presented for a response, when it is really meant as a twist of the knife after it has ripped into your bowels.

I'm going to take the opportunity to stand up and and say "No!" everytime I get the Yes tactic. After all, it works for my 3-year-old grandson.

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