Sunday, October 26, 2008

Top 10 List of Pet Peeves in Spoken Communication.

As I sail into the turbulent waters of “The Golden Years,” I see early indications that I may be in danger of turning into a cranky curmudgeon. One such harbinger of incipient curmudgeondom is my increasingly short fuse and impatience when it comes to listening to the banal and inane speech patterns that have crept into our daily dialogue that pollute even professional and business communication. It is the rare hour when I do not find myself inwardly cringing and wincing at some particularly inapt phrase being blithely thrown out by a host or caller to WEEI talk radio, or injected into an otherwise perfectly pleasant conversation. Even the well-educated are not immune from this creeping devolution of daily discourse.

So, I offer my own – very subjective – list of my Top 10 List of Pet Peeves in Spoken Communication.

I offer the list to the readers of The White Rhino Report for two reasons. First, I need to get this off my chest, and the readers of this Blog seem to be an appropriate and receptive audience for my rant. Second, it may cause you to take a personal inventory of your own speech patterns to ascertain whether some of these deadly sins of syntax have crept into your own every day speech. Be aware that we are all being evaluated every hour of every day by those with whom we interact. Everything is a test! As an executive recruiter, I am often called upon to make very subjective choices about which potential candidates to present to a client company. On more than one occasion, I have chosen not to put forward a candidate who on paper appeared to have all of the requisite qualifications, but whose speech patterns were so unsophisticated and colloquial that the candidate came across as unprofessional.

Top 10 List of Pet Peeves in Spoken Communication

10) “I am trying to make a point. OK?”

It is not uncommon for a speaker, wishing to put forth an argument, to replace a logical chain of propositions with a series of simple declarative sentences, followed by the interjection: “OK?”

“Tom Brady has an infection in the knee that was operated on. OK?

I hear that the Patriots brass are upset that he used a surgeon in California. OK?

Brady many not be ready for the opening game of the 2009 seasons. OK?

I’m afraid we may not make it back to the playoffs. OK?”

Etc., etc.

This Neanderthal approach insults the listener, because it implies that he may need a handhold at each step along the line of the argument being presented. It also reveals the speaker to be woefully inept in crafting a cogent series or propositions.

Don’t fall into this trap. It makes you sound stupid! OK?

9) “Ya know?” or “Do you know what I mean?”

This foible is similar to #10 in that it implicitly insults the listener, and reveals that the speaker may have crawled onto dry land out of the muddy end of the gene pool.

“I got a new job. Do you know what I mean?”

“Ya know, the Red Sox could have won Game 7 if Varitek had just been able to make contact, ya know?”

On rare occasion, I have become so exasperated in listening to this stream of often unconscious verbal Hamburger Helper that I have interrupted the speaker:

“I am going to buy a hybrid car. Do you know what I mean?”

“No, I don’t. I am so friggin’ stupid that I am not capable of comprehending a simple sentence. Please explain what you mean.”

That usually makes the point – and ends the conversation – and sometimes terminates the friendship. I said I was becoming a curmudgeon, do you know what I mean?

8) “. . . , Which is Good!”

Stating the obvious is a sin that will quickly get one labeled as an intellectual lightweight.

“I just looked outside and it has stopped raining, which is good!”

“The number of foreclosures in Massachusetts is down this month, which is good!”

Please! Let the listener decide the moral value, if any, of a simple statement. If you can eliminate this faux pas from your conversation, people may assume you are brighter than they heretofore had given you credit for – which is good! OK?

7) “She was talking to he and I.”

In technical grammatical terms, this construct is called the “compound object of a preposition.” It is rare in English for a noun or pronoun to change cases, but this is one of those rare instances.

“I” is appropriate when the word is used as a subject: “I am writing this Blog piece.”

“Me” is used when the word is an object of a verb or preposition: “Readers of this Blog may write me and respond to me with comments.”

It gets tricky when there is more than one object. Our gut tells us that it does not feel right to use “him” and “me,” because we have heard yokels say: “Him and me went to the picture show!” So, in trying not to fall into that trap, we inadvertently trigger an IED – an “inarticulate expressive device”!

A simple way to figure what is appropriate is to remove one of the objects.

“She gave the book to he and I” or “She gave the book to him and me?”

“She gave the book to I” or “She gave the book to me?”



6) “Can I git?”

I believe I have mentioned this pet peeve in the past in this space, but it still drives me crazy. Dunkin’ Donuts locations may be the sites of the most frequent perpetrations of this verbal idiosyncrasy.

“Can I git a couple of crullers and a large iced hazelnut, extra cream, three Splendas?

I would prefer a simple: “I would like . .” or perhaps “May I please have . . .”

When I hear “Can I git?” I want to retort: “No, you can’t; NO SOUP FOR YOU!”

5) “Can I help who’s next?”

While I am on the subject of Dunkin’ Donuts, I would like to offer the observation that they need to train their customer service people to be a little warmer in their greetings. “Can I help who’s next?” does not cut it for me. It may sound hokey, but I prefer places where I am greeted with a smile and a simple “Hi,” or even, “Can I help the next guest/customer/glutton?”

4) A “Very Unique” Problem

“She was wearing one of the most unique brooches I had ever seen.”

By definition, “unique” means “one of a kind” – there is nothing else like it in existence. So, there cannot be degrees of uniqueness. It is not logically possible for one thing to be “more unique” than another. If you get this concept right, you will stand out among your peers as uniquely articulate.

3) Revert back

“Revert back” is technically a redundancy. Revert means “to go back to” or “to return to,” as in “She reverted to her old tardy ways.” So, the concept of going back is already contained within the word “revert,” and to add “back” is like gilding the lily. It is unnecessary and annoying.

2) “Very, very” or “Right, right, right”

With these final two pet peeves, I am moving into the realm of what I think of as “automatic response” or “knee jerk” verbal fillers. Whenever I hear a speaker begin to use these forms of verbiage, I begin to assume that I had better turn on my “BS filter” because it strikes me as insincere. These are unconscious forms of communication that fail to connect with me on any meaningful person-to-person level.

“This cell phone is very, very reliable, and I think if you buy it, you will be very, very pleased.”

“Right, right, right!”

1) “To be quite candid” or “To be honest with you”

As soon as I hear this kind of language, I check to make sure that my wallet is where it belongs. The implication is either: “Up until now, I have not been completely honest with you, but now I will begin to tell you the unvarnished the truth.” Or, it may imply, “With most people, I tell them what I think they want to hear, but you are special, so I will tell you the whole truth.” I expect the next line will be something like: “What will it take for me to get you into one of my cars and have you drive it off the lot into your driveway today?”

In either case, the sense is that I am now dealing with a person that I cannot completely trust. See Shakespeare:

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

--From Hamlet (III, ii, 239)

So, there you have it: a curmudgeon’s jeremiad lamenting the woeful state of verbal communication in the world today. OK? I would welcome your comments. Do you know what I mean?



Cooper said...

Very, very, funny!

Lucas said...

To be honest, I think you left out one of the most unique comments, "like."

Wow, she is like, so cool.

In fact, it commonly goes this way
Like, do you know what I mean?

MC said...

I'm scared to have a conversation with you now.

[End of comment]


Craig Balben, SSPG Chair said...

Uh oh, which one of those have I used around Al?! To be honest, I think I speak very, very good, ya know?

Nice, fun post Al!

Mark Sohmer said...

Excellent post, Al, as always.

I don't know that I agree with the one about repetition (#2). Maybe it's the Hebrew in me, but I believe repetition can be used effectively for emphasis. As you know, there is Biblical precedent for this! "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3).

As for #5, when I was in high school mmmmfff years ago, I worked for a small photo lab and the owner never wanted us to say "Can I help you?" because it is IMPLIED that I can help the customer. That's why I'm working there. If you're an excellent worker, which we all ought to be, then WE CAN help the customer. So I was taught to say, "How might I help you?" or "What can I help you with?"

Might I offer a few more peeves? Here are a few of my own:

1) "I was thinking to myself."

Who else would you "think" to? Unless you are clairvoyant, you will only be able to think to yourself. So please just say, "I was thinking."

2) "Irregardless." says this word is non-standard.

Here's an excerpt from the site:

Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that "there is no such word." There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance. Use regardless instead.

I agree. "Regardless" sounds much more intelligent.

Okay, I'm done venting! Thanks for letting me join you in that, Okay? (I couldn't resist!)

John said...

My pet peeve saying is, "No problem." When someone does something for you and you thank them, they reply "No problem." Does this mean that they would not help you if there was a problem, or they would tell you they had a problem, and if they did, then why did they take the action they did to help you. I have made it a point to purge the phrase from my vocabulary. I much prefer, "It was my pleasure." said...

One of my pet peeves has been mentioned in the comments, the use of irregardless!!!

Also, "supposably", "oldtimers" (a condition not a disease), "prostrate" cancer, "libary" (if you can not pronounce it you probably have not spent much time in one)...just a few of the most common bastardization of the English language I hear all of the time.

Craig Balben, SSPG Chair said...

Ok, one more: "Well, look..." mostly by Sen. Obama. This one is similar to #9. As if the speaker has some inside knowledge to which the rest of us are not privy.

scott said...

Brilliant observations. That made for a good laugh.
Here is one that I offer from here on the Left Coast - prior to starting off any type of response (regardless of content or tone), speakers will say "Sooooooooo, ....". Please note the utterly annoying and completely unnecessary prolonged "o", not to mention the lack of the need for the word "so" entirely.
Sooooo, to be honest, I must get back to work to help my next high-volume customer in line ...

Chicken Slacks said...

My biggest cringer is "All Set?". Like when I'm waiting order food and the waiter says "All set?" What does that mean? Do you mean, am I ready to order? Do you mean, do I need anything else? Do you mean, is this table location OK for me? Do I not look "all set?" Whenever I hear that, I always have to ask in reply "What do you mean?" just to make them think. Usually they don't get it.

Anonymous said...

Amazing sharing man.

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