Tag Archives: recurring speech patterns

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Tics are sometimes functional. And others? Just annoying.

Humans come in many forms, with custom wrapping that could only be theirs.  The more we get to know a person the more we can identify the signature features of how they address others.  Most of these verbal or visual habits may hardly raise an eyebrow.  But other habits may come to be seen as bumps on the road to fluency: verbal peculiarities that are noticed and, perhaps, an unintended source of amusement.

Communication “tics” are not alway manifest in utterances.  But many are, taking the form of over-used locutions, repeated words or phrases, or unusual ways of verbally ‘punctuating’ words.  For example, many of us fall prey to the silence-filling “auh” when a full stop might be better.  Others of us lean on “you know” or “um” as silence-fillers.  They frequently serve to keep a verbalization sequence alive, as if it was territory to be held against potential invaders.  “Auh” is like a gate that never opens to let another pass.  And “you know” can get especially annoying when it seems to have fully replaced the written equivalent of a simple period.

Alternatively, we may keep a collection of voices available for babies, pets or friends,  unaware that its endless use can be grating. A high-pitched ‘baby’ voice directed to an old dog can may endearing the first few times, but can become a stale as a Frankie Valli hit that is heard a bit too often.

Those of us with allergies or sinus issues know we must  sometimes drive others crazy with coughs, throat-clearing, nose-blowing or worse. Few are as bad or as funny as the Odd Couple’s Felix. The infamous diner scene from Neil Simon’s film isn’t the first time that Jack Lemmon’s Felix was to test Oscar’s patience.

Some  tics are functional.  I had a professor who, when he grew excited about making a point, would begin to trip over his words.  He would pause and then repeat their first syllables, and it was positively riveting: a kind of oral punctuation that worked.

More annoying can be the habits of raising one’s voice at the end of a statement or, conversely, lowering vocal volume to inaudibility. Both patterns can persist regardless of what is being said.  A routine rise in pitch at the end of a thought can leave it sounding like a would-be question, sometimes signaling a tentativeness and turning ideas into “maybe” assertions. The different problem of dropping one’s vocal volume at the end of a thought leaves us unsure of what we heard.  The thought seems to vanish into a fog of receding sound. Film directors sometime miss the pattern when they are working with actors who have never worked in live theater, where there learn to ‘project’ to the back of the house.  The result can leave viewers wondering what was said in the last few words of a line. To be sure, the British sometimes prefer self-effacing mumbles, leaving Americans to check with each other about what the Earl of Whatever was suggesting in the last scene.  That is still preferred to what Brits sometimes hear as rude shouts from their American cousins.

Tics are mostly harmless. Though when they begin to seem like a pattern that is its own sideshow, they can swamp the ideas or feelings that are supposed at the center of an exchange.