There are a couple of verbal tics that are reaching peak annoyance right now. At the low end of the scale, (which runs from “What did he say?” to “Nails-on-a-chalkboard”), is the dulling of the simple preposition ‘to.’ In spoken English the word is gradually losing its “ooo” vowel sound and being replaced with the far less elegant “uh” sound.
The flattening of ‘to’ is often associated with a verbal pause so that a speaker’s thought can catch up with her words. It’s easy to merge ‘to’ with that perennial oral bugaboo “uh.” To wit: “So after that, we were going tuh…you know…get some ice cream.”
‘Tuh’ is most noticeable on podcasts and other unscripted media programs where speakers have to think on their feet, but I notice it in everyday interactions, too. I even it hear it my own speech, which makes all the more annoying.
Much further up the scale, however, is ‘right.’ When I first started noticing it about two years ago, the addition of ‘right?’ to the end of a statement seemed endearing, as if the speaker were drawing me in and inviting me to own the observation with him. “The popularity of Hillbilly Elegy is a function of urban America’s desire to know more about Appalachia, right?” Here I’m invited to affirm (or presumably reject) an assertion.
Over time, however, ‘right?’ has infected all manner of statements. Appended on to the end of a string of facts about which I know nothing, how am I supposed to respond? When you assert what sounds like a forceful opinion and tack on ‘right?’ I feel like you’re trying to coerce agreement.
Worse, however, is the sense that the speaker needs my reassurance to continue. ‘Right?’ starts to sound like, “I’m saying this definitively but I may be too forceful, so can you give me some indication that I can keep going?”
How about you go ahead and make your argument and I’ll respond at the end? You don’t need my agreement to state your case, especially if you’re telling me something that I have no way to evaluate in the first place. You don’t have to confirm with me every three sentences. That would be excessive. Right?
2 responses to “This Verbal Tic is Driving Us Crazy, Right?”
[…] don’t use Heartlands to rant much, right? O yeah, there was that time. But, listen, there’s a new rhetorical bugaboo I need to brood about. I’m deeply concerned […]
I found this page by searching for “verbal tic”+”go ahead”, after watching an excruciating hour-long presentation by a speaker who said “go ahead” a hundred times, even twice in one sentence. Ironically, this article was about a different phrase, but concluded with an almost-gratuitous “go ahead”. 😉