A Fool's Errand

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on August 20, 2023 @ tonymacklin.net.

Please bear with me. I realize what I'm about to say is a fool's errand. I'm here to combat the abuse of language today. I'm not a prime expert on language, but I do listen.

Would people on television and the radio be able to speak if they didn't use "You know" and "I mean"? You can win most bets if you wager that the first or second sentence you hear on the air every time will have "you know" and/or "I mean" in them. Try it. The next show you turn on, see if that's the first thing you hear.

Every time you turn them on, on every station. On all political shows and sports shows. Is there a law imposing that the two phrases have to be used?

If you play a drinking game, you'd be drunk immediately. The night of the 4th Trump indictment, Neal Katyal on MSNBC used "You know" 5 times in 2 sentences. You'd be drunk in a minute. This is a guy who has spoken before the Supreme Court. I mean, that court, you know.

It's not just a few that depend on those meaningless utterances. Almost all the hosts, guests, experts, et al. depend on them. Alex Wagner on MSNBC is the queen of I mean. Savvy veteran Gloria Borger on CNN uses "You know" ad nauseum.

Nineteen out of twenty people that speak regularly on the air use them in sentence after sentence.

One wonders if these people ever listen to themselves. Do their producers only care about hair style and hair color. One guy changed his dye job 5 times in a week. One woman changed her hairstyle every night for a week. One looked like a painted doll. But producers don't tell them, "Don't say that. It's annoying and meaningless."

It's important what they say. But isn't it important how they say it? Do people listen?

Thank the gods of law for professor Laurence Tribe, who never uses them. He says exactly what he means. What a concept.

Since I'm a sports fan let me point out how sports experts, announcers, broadcasters now always employ a word that they've rendered meaningless. Today in every game in every sport a slightly above average play is "unbelievable."

No, I saw it. I believed it. It's not unbelievable. In fact, I've never used the word (except here).

Now to the area of part of my career - film.

Times change. Attitudes change.

Almost everyone I ask these days doesn't know when I ask who is Jack Nicholson? "Is he a singer?" If they do know, it's always The Shining (1980). I've never encountered anyone who knows Jack's terrific performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975).

On TNT - the television station that promotes movies - they mispronounce Falcon in The Maltese Falcon. See it on your screen they use the word Fall-con more than ten times in the film. It's not Foul-con. It's the movie, not the car or football team. But who cares?

And their Noir expert is about as Noirish as Don Knotts.

Language matters. Doesn't it?

And how is my hair?

© 2000-2023 Tony Macklin