I had to laugh and so did many others at the merry weekly gathering for the Knights of Columbus version of Kickback Friday. My regulars were pretty much all in place, occupying their stools around the bar and enjoying what the Irish would call craic, which is pronounced like “crack” and is an Emerald Isle catch-all term for news, gossip and enjoyable discourse and, all in all, the type of fun that pairs perfectly with a libationary beverage at week’s end.
As a family-friendly place, it’s certainly not unusual for there to be kids in the house, and, on this particular late afternoon, there was one very new to humanity.
A young mom with her 6-week-old bundle of joy was there along with her mom and dad, who also happened to be first-time grandparents. Of course, Mom was showing the baby off, with pretty much everyone giving the appropriate and expected verbal reactions that included words such as “adorable” and “angelic,” interspersed by a whole bunch of oohing and aahing.
When she got to one stool, one of my regulars cast a glance at the newly birthed lad, looked at the mom and queried, “How long’s it been out?”
The abruptness of the question and the manner in which it was asked prompted a staccato burst of laughter, not mean laughter mind you, because the source of the question is a regular and a proven really good guy, known and liked by all.
Rather, it was laughter, I think, prompted by the thought that sometimes, no matter how hard we try to articulate, things just don’t always come out quite right when we open our yaps!
As a lifelong language lover and one who’s certainly authored many an utterance that didn’t quite come out right, such moments are golden to me. Verbal is very much different from written as we all know. While the latter can be outlined, rough drafted and exhaustively analyzed and revised before it reaches others, to ensure just the right blend of mechanical exactitude, intent and tone in what we wish to say, verbal is so extemporaneous that it creates such potential for comedic moments.
Of course, those who sometimes have trouble finding the right thing to say and the right way to say it often aren’t really aware that what they’ve said is anything too terribly different than what anyone else may have. And, when it comes to those folks, without question, the patron saint of unintended meaning was Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, who was as adept at lining a rawhide sphere off the bill of his Yankee cap down the line for a double as he was at befuddling his listeners.
Berra once tried to compliment New York Mayor John Lindsay’s wife during a ceremony where he was being awarded the key to the city. As the story goes, Mrs. Lindsay told Yogi that, despite the swelter of a Big Apple summer afternoon, he looked so cool before the presentation was about to begin, to which Yogi responded graciously, “Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself.”
Those who spent considerable time around Yogi , whose passing so many mourned in 2015, and listened to his twisted elocutions called his attempts “Yogi-isms.” Berra insisted he didn’t intentionally try to bemuse and amuse, rather, the thoughts he tried to articulate just sort of came out that way.
Such a case would be when he once lamented attending a very loud cocktail party by saying, “It was impossible to get a conversation going. Everyone was talking too much.”
In my time knocking around schools, I’ve often been amused at students’ attempts to convey a verbal thought. That teacher who once occupied the classroom next door to mine, the same Lady Jane I hold in such high regard today, once had a statue with the head and neck of her literary superstar, William Shakespeare, as a visual aid to her lessons and reading of “Romeo and Juliet,” which prompted one boy who noted the statue while walking in for class to blurt out, “Hey, Ms. Kuhn, I like your bust!”
Meanwhile, next door, I had one of my students during the first week of school ask me if she could write for her first narrative composition about her family vacation that past summer to the Great Smoking Mountains. Sometime later, after a reading of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” another student asked if he could write an essay on the real reasons he surmised that Captain Ahab hated the whale.
Years later, after I graduated from my primary career and slid into another, I had a co-worker tell me how enjoyable a trip to Germany was and what a thrill it was for him to drive as fast as he wanted in his rental car on that famous speed-limitless highway, the Otterbein!
And, so it goes, for both the young and the old alike, in our attempts to say things just the right way. Often those attempts prove that not only is truth stranger than fiction, it’s often a whole lot funnier as well.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.