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A Good Case for Ear Plugs

Urbanna, Va.— We have become a nation of perfectly dreadful speakers. The end result is: Who can stand to listen to anyone speak?

Case in point: me. It was my pleasure to be interviewed for Woman’s World on Channel 24 one day last summer. It was not my pleasure, however, to hear me speak when the program was broadcast on TV. It seems that I had used the word “wonderful” to describe any situation or condition in my life almost (but not quite) in every other sentence.

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by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Hearing me say “wonderful” umpteen times was most sobering. Somehow I was reminded of Father’s first television interview on a Cleveland TV station toward the end of his life regarding the annual Fish Festival in Vermilion, Ohio.

To every question asked my father by an enthusiastic interviewer, who only wanted to extol the joys of a small town festival on Lake Erie, Father responded with only one word— “Indeed.” After a passel of “indeeds” were aired by Father all across northern Ohio, the host finally gave up and brought the interview to a hasty conclusion.

At least Father didn’t say “wonderful.” Somehow “indeed” is far more respectable.

But can’t we speak on TV properly? No, we cannot. It must have something to do with the brain process of finding the right words in the flash of a second with a camera aimed right on us; indeed, the lens seemed to be coming down our throats.

Recently, the “New Yorker” magazine, a periodical that I read religiously each week to hear what the latest liberal views are on every scintillating subject, discussed this very same problem in the “Talk of the Town” section. It seems politicians especially struggle with speech.

Indeed. As if I hadn’t noticed.

For example, Hillary Clinton. In a speech she gave someone counted the use of “I’m disappointed” nine times but, even worse, the use of “you know” 19 times. Indeed, Clinton used “you know” so many times during interviews that I can never tolerate listening to her speak.

Indeed, I cannot.

Wonderful.

Caroline Kennedy, and thank goodness she withdrew her interest in becoming senator of New York, has even more of a problem with uttering the phrase “you know.”

A Times reporter said he had counted “you know” 138 times in one of her interviews. Later, on TV, Kennedy was heard to say “you know” over 200 times.

Help. Indeed she did. And one would think that if anyone could speak properly in America, it would be Caroline Kennedy, considering all her, you know, obvious advantages.

Please do not think I am just picking on Democrats. Republicans do no better. An example of a Republican who could cause the skin to crawl with repeated expressions was the Miss “You Bettcha” of the universe, the esteemed Governor of Alaska.

You bettcha? It is my belief that “you bettcha” is even worse than the infamous “youse guys” that hails from New Jersey. But I could be wrong.

Then there are other irritating expressions and words that people repeat in public speaking. The overuse, for example, of “like” drives one absolutely crazy in short time. Like this, like that, like everything. Oh give the listening public, like, a break, you know, please, will you?

Or how about the inane phrase “I mean.” The tree, I mean, the peach tree, I mean, the freestone peach tree, grew in my garden. I mean, like, you know, that blasted peach tree?
Indeed.

Such overuse of a word or phrase makes the old standby “well” maybe not so terrible.

Not to mention the popular trio used by everyone in a jam . . . ah, er, and oh.

Then there are words like, you know, “awesome.” Please, would the “awesome” devotees of this world kindly think of another adjective to use? How about “fantastic?” The New Yorker reported someone had recently said “fantastic” 25 times in a three-minute interview. I would also add “super” and “cool” and “neat” to the junkyard pile as other words that are greatly overused.

And these are the educated people who are speaking so poorly. One wonders what uneducated people might say who suddenly find themselves on camera? Maybe . . . “Duh!” “Huh!” “Oops!” Or four-letter words commonly garbled as street talk?

Or perhaps a plethora of husky caveman grunts? Sign language? Finger pointing? Anything other than one more “wonderful” would surely fill the bill.

I have always admired Scarlett O’Hara’s use of “God’s nightgown!” every time she got herself worked up in a snit. Now there’s an expression one doesn’t hear every day. At least Scarlet was original, even if she was a fictional character.

As a last resort I might cough up a good Ohio “WOW!” Or put my hands on my hips and stomp my foot and shout with a great deal of Midwestern indignation (which is always “awesome”) . . .
“Good gracious!”

Of late I have been saying “HORRORS!” A friend who has passed away improved upon that expression by giving it the French spelling, “Horreurs!”

The following are a few ideas in place of “wonderful,” “awesome,” “super” and “fantastic”—splendid, delightful, enjoyable, pleasant, merry, magnificent, grand, elegant and gallant.

If only I might have thought of any of them during my TV interview.

Horrors!

Indeed, it turns out, as is usual, that Father had it right all along. I just did not have the good sense back then to appreciate him. What the world needs is more men and women of fewer words. I vote we stick to “indeed,” that is, if we can’t think of any word or words that will express our ideas any better than that.

Surely with all our degrees hanging in frames on the walls of our offices, Americans ought to be able to dip a wee bit deeper into our massive well of vocabulary.

Indeed.

©2009
http://www.marywakefieldbuxton.com

posted 02.04.2009

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