The slow death of speech

Gerald_colourweb“Say it in broken English.” – Marianne Faithfull

While our new Prime Minister is wowing international media with his good looks, adorable family and sunny disposition, his speaking ability in interviews and sound bites is a national embarrassment. His pronouncements at the recent Paris climate change conference were peppered with “ums,” “uhs,” and a couple of “you knows.” On such a supposedly important issue, one would think he could knock off a couple of sentences without sounding like a semi-literate grade nine student.

The real bad news is that his inarticulateness is astoundingly common. I recently listened to Rand Paul, a Republican presidential contender, who is an eye doctor by training and a sitting US Senator, explain his position on weighty world and domestic issues. It was torture and pretty well in line with Trudeau’s dismal ability in front of a mike. Both men can speak well enough given a prepared script and time to practice but on the spot proper English seems to be a chore for them.

Tuning to CBC’s excellent science program Quirks and Quarks, I was again assaulted by dithering words that felt like the speaker was stuck and spinning his wheels until he or she could think straight. Toss in the all too common “you know?” add a couple of “rights?” and then finish off a sentence with “you know what I mean?” Hearing people with PhDs speak like this about their field of expertise scares me more than whatever comments they had about climate change (again!) or the fate of snakes with a new and deadly fungal disease.

I’m starting to like Donald Trump more and more, not because he gets attention on issues he thinks are important, but because he speaks in a straightforward and easily understandable format that any listener can either comprehend or get outraged by. His diction is even and his message (love it or hate it) is clear.

One can laugh at hockey and football coaches for their use of timeworn clichés, but I‘m finding these jocks speak better English in interviews than politicians and scientists. They seem to be able to answer a question clearly and elucidate their response concisely.

Probably the most egregious examples of Pidgin English are by newscasters and policemen. In Europe, the opposition parties are always called “far right” but the governing Socialists are never identified as “far left.” Cops drive me around the bend when they say “alleged suspect” and “at this point in time.” I hope they don’t speak like this at home. Weather forecasters talk about highs and lows and then babble on about what the “normal” temperature should be when they can really say average temperature for this date in time (deliberate oops)!

Maybe people are getting so overwhelmed with the constant flow of information and their addiction to being connected that their speaking and writing abilities are regressing as a defense mechanism? You know what I mean, right!?

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