Speaking of annoying ...


Do you know someone who talks like this? Someone who, no matter what point they're trying to make, has every sentence sound like a question?

Like they'll say: "I was driving on the Beltway? And this guy in a blue Camaro? He cut me off? And I swerved into the other lane? And there was, like, this big truck there?"

Doesn't that kind of talk drive you nuts?

Isn't it, like, the most annoying thing you've ever heard?

Don't you just want to grab them by the collar and shake them? Just shake them and shake them and scream, "What's wrong with you?!" until finally they stop . . . whoa, steady now. Deep breath. There you go. Now another one.

Sorry. Almost lost it there.

Anyway, I first started noticing this new speech pattern two years ago? Only I didn't write about it then? 'Cause I thought it would go away?

Only it didn't?

And now I'm, like, really sick of it?

Because everywhere I go I hear teen-agers talk like that? And even people in their 20s and early 30s? And it's, like . . . WILL YOU STOP IT?! JUST STOP IT! YOU CAN'T WRITE A WHOLE DAMN COLUMN LIKE THIS!

Yes. Sorry. It's just that, if you listen to this stuff long enough, you actually find yourself . . . well, never mind.

Anyway, I did some research on this new way of speaking? Well, actually this nice woman in our library did? Her name is Dee?

And she used this data base that . . . WOULD YOU JUST STOP! FOR GOD'S SAKE!

OK, rub the temples. Relax the muscles. Deep cleansing breath.

There. I'm OK now. No, really.

In any event, linguists say what we're talking about here is a new syndrome called "intonational rise" or "uptalk," in which declarative sentences are made to sound like questions.

The origins of uptalk are unclear, although some people say it's a direct descendant of Valley Girl talk, that grating California-via-Mars dialect employed by adolescents for the express purpose (or so it seemed) of ticking off every adult within hearing range.

The fact is, uptalk is taking root all over the country. Unfortunately, you're just as likely to hear it from a greenhouse worker in Milwaukee ("These are chrysanthemums? They're, like, perennials? You need to plant them in a sunny, well-drained location?") as the Jiffy Lube guy in Baltimore ("Hi, my name's Earl? We changed all the fluids in your car? Only, with your air filter? There's a problem?")

Some scholars worry that uptalk illustrates the indecisiveness and conflicted feelings of young people today, the so-called Generation Xers.

But others feel it's nothing more than a new way of introducing information, although a way that summons the image of two people communicating via tin cans and a piece of string. ("I met this guy last night? His name is Jason? He's got, like, the biggest head I've ever seen? Like a horse's head?") Personally, if I were to address the young people who use uptalk, I would point out in the nicest way possible that it makes you sound kind of -- oh, what's the word we're looking for here? -- dumb.

Dumb as a rock, if you want to know the truth. One thing's for sure, I don't think we want this kind of talk spreading to the older generations.

For example, I don't think anyone wants to see the president of the United States reduced to "uptalk" in a major address to the nation:

"My fellow Americans, I've just attended a very important briefing? With the Joint Chiefs of Staff? It seems the Iraqis are moving on Kuwait again? So we're moving 50,000 troops over there? And two aircraft carriers? Into the Persian Gulf?"

And it wouldn't be comforting to be sitting in your doctor's office and hear something like: "Um, we got the lab results back? And there's a problem? It's in one of the chambers of your heart? In the atrium? Or maybe it's the ventricle?"

It boggles the mind to think of how uptalk could have affected some of the great events in our nation's history.

Certainly, it would have wimpified and given a Hi-I'm-Jason-and-I'll-be-your-waiter feel to the cry that galvanized the nation during the Spanish-American War: "Remember the Maine?"

And thankfully there was no hint of uptalk in 1969 when Neil Armstrong took his momentous first steps on the moon, or else we might have heard this via the Apollo 11 radio link-up: "That's, um, one small step for a man? And one, you know, giant step for mankind?"

Dude! Awesome view, huh?

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