My pal Mike O‚??Connor is my go-to guy when it comes to computers and half the driving force behind one of Lima‚??s fine local companies, WCOIL (sorry, Mike, but you must share the top of Computer Mountain with your infinitely better half, Barb). And, from time to time, it‚??s necessary for Mike to help me guard against those nasty viruses that could wreak torrential destruction on my e-mail capabilities and writing files.
While I am minimally competent when it comes to my knowledge of computers, viewing them with healthy doses of respect and fear, I certainly understand the whole concept of the virus when it comes to language. That‚??s why I was so appalled when I played back a tape of a conversation I had recently with someone who was inquiring as to my interest level in, perhaps, writing her story in manuscript form, a story she felt to be equal parts frightening, compelling, but ultimately fulfilling.
Since it wasn‚??t a standard interview when I would have a set of questions I wanted to ask, I was reacting primarily off what she was telling me, so I was certainly in extemporaneous mode.
In this fact-gathering conversation, I told her I was going to tape the call, so that I could formulate a specific set of notes as to her recollections, which has been the first step in the two manuscripts I‚??ve written thus far that actually made it to book form.
Using this method, I have the ability to stop the recorder whenever needed to transcribe, in detail, the particulars.
Now, after I hung up and sat writing my notes, I simply couldn‚??t believe the number of times I used the dreaded speech tic ‚??you know‚?Ě as a conversation filler as I gathered thoughts to ask her questions and provide advice on her desire to turn a portion of her life into a published story. Rewinding the tape after I finished the initial notes, I counted 26 times, a veritable plethora of banality, and this, from someone who taught high school speech in addition to English for a number of years!
The word tic originally referred to a spasmodic muscular contraction, especially a facial one, but through the years, as usage evolved, has also been used to describe those annoying pet expressions we use as we mentally gather the content of our next relevant words.
Now, there are times, many of them, when we should be so very thankful that we are not celebrities, whose lives and words are so often dissected and used as fodder for the next tabloid, the next blog, or the next YouTube video.
You may recall President Barack Obama being lampooned for his excessive use of ‚??uh‚?Ě when he wasn‚??t speaking with the aid of a teleprompter during his campaign. You can still go online and find video clips and count them for yourself. I know the anti-Obamites seem to take great relish in doing so to counter pro-Obamites and their claims that their guy is one of the great oral communicators of our time.
You may also recall Caroline Kennedy‚??s dalliance with the notion that, despite having a r√©sum√© that didn‚??t include her ever holding public office of any kind, her first job should be that of filling Hillary Clinton‚??s vacated New York senatorial seat after Clinton was confirmed as secretary of state.
But, in Kennedy‚??s first round of in-depth interviews, she demonstrated such a propensity for falling prey to the same ‚??you knows‚?Ě I did, at one time dropping 30 in 147 seconds worth of excerpts, that it instantly chipped away at her credibility.
At one point, she was the source of such articulations as, ‚??You know, I think, really, um, this is sort of a unique moment, both in our, you know, in our country‚??s history, and in, you know, my own life, and, um, you know, we are facing, you know, unbelievable challenges.‚?Ě
Speech tics such as excessive use of ‚??of course,‚?Ě ‚??you know‚?Ě and ‚??see what I‚??m saying?‚?Ě not only fill time to gather our thoughts but also are our attempts to seek validation. Others such as ‚??it felt like,‚?Ě according to Geoffrey Nunberg, chairman of the usage panel for American Heritage Dictionary, are the speaker‚??s attempts to put the listener in the moment.
For any overused verbal crutch, Numberg offers this suggestion to clean up our language and add more precision: Slow down when speaking, putting more distance between thoughts and words.
Now, as it is with most foibles, it can be difficult to see the tendency in ourselves and ever so easy to recognize it in others, but just ask those to whom you speak the most, and they‚??ll tell you. Or, as I did, tape yourself some time when speaking to another.
While I‚??d like to enlighten you further on these nasty oral viruses, I‚??ve got to get ready for work ‚?Ľ you know?
John Grindrod: A time for hope and prayers in this small town