Guest Post: Freneticism Of Communication

Dreams really do come true at Riverside Green — in my case, it’s the dream of catching up on all the brilliant guest posts submitted in 2018! Thanks to Mozzie for his patience with me, and for his contribution — jb

“And, uhm, it was like so inappropriate?” This is not a verbatim quote. Is there an explanation to the up-talk, verbal pauses, vocal fry, and malapropisms, which are now part of our professional and private lives, outside the broad concept that language evolves over time? I believe that it has to do with the pace at which people attempt to communicate. I believe that people try to talk too quickly and end up saying very little. It almost seems as though people aspire to hold a conversation as if they were spittin’ like Busta Rhymes (or an Aaron Sorkin character, if you prefer). Let’s don the blazer with the elbow patches, set aside the copy of Strunk and White, and consider the elements of contemporary language which some find so unbecoming.

The verbal pause may seem to have an obvious answer; the speaker makes a sound while their mind catches up with what they intend to say. I contend that it has a secondary, defensive purpose. Any break in speech is perceived by other parties in the conversation as an invitation to jump in. The verbal pause says “hold on, I’m not done yet.” The speaker in the moment has no faith in their counterparty to wait for their turn. What interests me is the amalgamation of conjunctive words with verbal pauses. The TV show How I Met Your Mother made fun of “but-uhm” and CarTalk pointed out “and-uh” as part of their routine. Have we reduced our thinking to one clause at a time, and the conjunctive cannot function by itself anymore?

It is difficult to ascertain whether the listener eager to jump in is a response to the incessant speaker, or the other way around. It can, however, partially explain the habit of listening to respond. When watching a round table discussion on TV or several people conversing in a casual setting, there is a good chance at least one of the participants will appear to be on the edge of their seat, perhaps nodding enthusiastically, and taking an audible breath of air as they jump in with a comment of their own. This usually happens the instant the last person stops talking. It is possible that the person who jumped in heard and understood everything the last person said. It is also possible they decided on their comment long before the last person finished talking. Besides the issue of people not listening to what others have to say (listening to comprehend), I think it has changed the way we inflect our speech and finish our thoughts.

If I were to visualize traditional speech inflection of a statement, it would look like this:

The bottom line represents the progression of words, and the top line represents vocal pitch. The graphic for a question would look like this: The pitch keeps going up until the question is formed. Up-talk is the affectation of vocalizing statements in the manner of questions. If you read the first sentence of this piece out loud, that is what it would sound like. I think the reason why many people talk in this way has to do with eager listeners. By changing the inflection, the speaker elicits a response from their counterparties without having to wait for a response. Since the conversational partner is going to react before you’re done talking, why not get the answer sooner as well? I’ve noticed that often people will finish their thoughts with “so.” For example, “The monthly payments for that trim are too high, so.” Normally I would expect more to follow it, but it never comes. Maybe that is why we have “so-uhm” to signal a continuation of thought, which would otherwise be mono-clausal.

If you took singing lessons or watched The Voice, you understand the importance of breath control. Basically, it is the planning of air intake which will not interfere with the delivery of the song. What can you do, however, if you have to keep making sound and not have time to take a breath? You will likely exhibit vocal glottalization, or vocal fry as it commonly referred to. Lacking the power of explanation to properly describe the sound, I will defer to Abby Normal on this. I would like to point out that I’m not focusing on the occasional presence of vocal fry, but the consistent affectation which accompanies every word. It comes back to the theme of trying to speak faster than is suitable, so much so that it becomes a habit.

At a previous job I was in a meeting listening to a c-suite executive give their remarks on the company’s latest financial dealings. The executive said, “It was an eloquent solution.” I know it’s not a fault of my memory, because they used the word “eloquent” at least once more. It may be a case of the musician hitting the wrong note again in an attempt to make the mistake seem deliberate. I never knew business deals could express themselves. I couldn’t ask the executive about their word choice, so I’m going to label it a malapropism, which is the use of a proper word in the wrong context. Another example, although not verbatim: “And we would like to exonerate their accomplishments.” Once in a while I will catch myself, and look up a word in an e-mail before sending it. It is usually a word I hadn’t used in a long time. Most of the time the use is appropriate, but once in a while I’m glad I could catch it. Without the luxury of proof reading and reconsidering word choice, I am not surprised that the mind which is pushed to keep a fast pace is not able to conjure the words it wants.

All of this is not meant to cast aspersions on the way people talk or lament the transformation of language. I noticed these habits over time, which got me to wonder about their cause, and that led me to the conclusion of desired pace. Although I have yet to go to a real track day, I’ve done hundreds if not thousands of virtual laps, and exhibited the same mistakes I would later read about. How is it that a virtual car getting closer in the rear-view mirror can derail my concentration and lead to a race-losing mistake? Or not warming up the digital tires and trying to go faster than what is possible? Practice can improve performance to an extent, but ultimately we are better off keeping it smooth and going at a pace which is appropriate to us.

32 Replies to “Guest Post: Freneticism Of Communication”

      • John C.

        Do you think Mozzie’s critique comes from love? I don’t and I worry there are younger readers who will read the above and not see it as the middle finger it is but just nod and absorb.

        • Bon Ivermectin

          Have you considered the possibility that these speech patterns originated with, and are most prevalent in, the baizuo class?

        • Mozzie

          John, if my writing came off as hatred, then I didn’t communicate effectively. My intent was not to hate, but to point out areas in which we can improve. I expect my friends to tell me if I burp too much in mixed company. I also catch myself sometimes saying “uhm” and I take note of that and try to improve.

          You are correct in that I my car key has an H on it, and I’m not wearing a blazer. People in Denver dress very casually. I was once in an elevator when one of my colleagues asked the one person in the elevator wearing a tie if they were a lawyer, and the theory was proven to be correct. If it matters, my Honda was built in Alabama.

          • John C.

            Mozzie your perhaps valid critique of speech patterns among the masses starts out with a you don’t know me but I am cooler and smarter than you. Lets agree that is probably true. For example, I don’t play a musical instrument and I don’t have enough info to compare my speech patterns to the long ago rapper with the busted rhymes. Then you go into your critique, which does not include solutions. A parent, friend or a teacher gives criticism from a position of being on the team and the pupil knows the teacher is trying to help. Without that, you are just defecating on people. In my opinion, the average person, for all their flaws and burps, gets enough blame in the world. Reading your article won’t help them.

        • Mozzie


          I couldn’t find a reply button to your last comment, hopefully this presents correctly. My proposal at the end is to communicate at a pace appropriate for the individual. Taking me as an example, I think slowly and consequently speak slowly, and can’t rap freestyle. Going back to the world of motorsport, I recall articles about Michael Schumacher being able to talk about weather changes during the race, whereas other drivers would sputter incoherently into the radio.

    • Mozzie

      Glad you liked the piece. I will be sure to pester Jack with another submission if another topic percolates to the top of the proverbial mind.

  1. Sobro

    My Dad was hard of hearing, but I figured out that his first response was always “Huh?” when he actually heard me. He was just processing. I learned to not repeat myself and just wait for him to respond after the “huh”.

    • David A Stanley

      Similar to how my dad would go “mmm” and nod his head. Sometimes it would be a sincere thoughtful “mmm” to where he was processing what I had asked or said, and other times would have a tinge of sarcasm or dismissiveness about it if he thought it was stupid or beneath him to respond.

  2. Chairworthiness

    “Fair warning, this is the boring part of the video where I talk, so you will have to put up with my Shatneresque… pauses and my very annoying habit of transposing letters and syllables.”
    (If you’re familiar with this reference, you’ll know the source is an excellent speaker who is captivating precisely because he avoids all these “extemporaneous speaking speed bumps.”

      • Eric H

        There’s a pet peeve of mine – “alot”
        There is no such word, it makes me instantly devalue everything that I read from that writer.

        When I was young my parents pointed out to me that when people add “umms” and “aaaahs” to their speech they sound dumb because they haven’t considered their comment fully. Ever since that day I have worked to remove them from my speech to the point that it does not occur unless I am doing to for effect.

        • Jack Baruth

          There’s a flip side to that, as Robert DeNiro would say.

          When I did the “CTS-V Challenge” for SpeedTV, I resolved when I was interviewed I would not say anything that was not a fully formed, grammatically correct sentence.

          Mission accomplished. But I sounded like the most pretentious buffoon possible. To this day I think “alot” of people think of me as the person in the video, who came off like a community theater Richard III.

          • John Marks

            No no no no no, Jack!

            You came off as an unpaid extra in an amateur dinner-theater production of Goethe’s “Faust.”

            I love you, and I hope that makes you feel better!


          • Eric H

            One thing I did not say is that my speech is grammatically correct. You still have to sound like you belong. Local colloquialisms and cadence are needed if you want to fit in.

            It could just have been your voice, it does seem to lack a certain gravitas.

          • Jack Baruth

            Yeah I left NYC too late to avoid being nasal but too early to have the authentic Seinfeld voice.

            It’s almost as much blessing as curse. I already come off to people as hyper aggressive and unpleasant. If I sounded like that as well I’d probably be unemployable.

          • Disinterested-Observer

            As much as I love the Alot, its relentless superiority can get insufferable.

    • NoID

      I recognize the quote but cannot recall when and where I heard it.

      I’ve been listening to one of Jordan Peterson’s lecture series, Mike Rowe’s podcast “The Way I Heard It”, and some Soho Forum debates, but I don’t think it was from any of those. Clue me in?

  3. Stray Child

    When stating the wrong fact can get you in trouble, uptalk provides an opportunity to retreat. “I was just wondering … It’s not like I really think that, of course….”

  4. Ronnie Schreiber

    The executive said, “It was an eloquent solution.”

    The executive was likely going for “elegant solution”. A well designed scientific experiment is sometimes characterized as elegant.

    I spent much of the last year redesigning my electric harmonica to use a variant of Lace’s Alumitone pickups. When I sent Jeff Lace the renderings of my proposed idea, he called it “elegant”. That pleased me almost as much as the fact that the new design actually works.

    • One Leg at a Time

      I love the term “elegant” do describe a technical or scientific solution. And I agree, it is one of the highest complements that one can pay to a designer or a “maker”.

      (As an aside, I spent way too long trying to see if I could make the word “eloquent” could work in the context described. Poetry, maybe?)

  5. jc

    I certainly notice a lot of very fast monotone speaking without even implied punctuation or pauses for breath or even clearly defined syllables amongst mumbling Millennials who also quack like ducks and end every sentence like a question?

    I often have to say “Repeat yourself, please”. I do not ask, because I am old and like to pretend that this gives me a certain implicit authority. Never having encountered anyone self-confident who speaks authoritatively, they almost invariable fall for it.

    The fewer the syllables, the more effective the communication. Almost always.

  6. Frank Stein

    I prefer the Gene Wilder & Marty Feldman version of “Abby Normal” 🙂

    I am surprised at how many grownups I know who still talk like they’re in grade school. University grads too! Terrible grammar: every other word in a sentence is “like” & other high school level annoyances. Brutal to try and comprehend.

    On the other hand I know some people who like to hear themselves talk so much, that they drone on forever, deliberately using big words and drawing things out way longer than they need to be.

    Maybe if I split their brains in half & paired them up with one another, they would balance each other out & talk normally?

  7. Frank Stein


    Despite popular opinion, I’ve always had the best intentions: creation rather than destruction


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