Dulltown, UK: Today’s dictionary words are: moidore, mofette, Mohock, modillion, modena, and velitation. Please have these words looked up and placed in suitable sentences ready for Mrs Mouldie (Professor Mouldie will be at the horse races) first thing after breakfast tomorrow morning. Extra marks will be awarded for clean hands and fingernails, pupils failing to come up to Mrs Mouldie’s high standard may receive a sharp slap on the back of the leg.
Hm, yes, I was sitting in a seat about halfway down the bus, it was a single-decker by the way, I usually go upstairs on buses, you get a better view of the world from up there. As we lurched and bounced out from the Dulltown Interchange I became aware of a loudness coming from a few seats behind me. It was a conversation between what seemed to be a voluble middle-aged woman, and someone who sounded like a taciturn old male – her share of the dialogue was by far the greater – he just slipped in the occasional monosyllable – my physical description of these two is just guesswork – from the tone of the chattering I didn’t really feel like turning around to observe, and possibly run the risk of making eye contact with either of them.
The lady’s voice was so loud and confident I’m sure she could be heard anywhere on the vehicle. I did try to not listen, to not listen is a difficult thing to do once your attention has been caught. The conversation, or possibly monologue, concerned family issues (some of these you might think should have been kept private, but the lady didn’t seem to mind sharing them with anyone within earshot) and upsets and disputes concerning the ownership and appropriation of items of clothing, expensive consumer items, drink and foodstuffs, and also what happened, or didn’t happen, to various different coloured cars belonging to certain rough sounding acquaintances. Oh, and without any embarrassment at one point she announced, with a certain pride, that she had been ‘clean’ for several months.
You may be wondering by now dear reader, why I’m bothering telling you all about this pretty ordinary everyday scene – well, it does get a little bit more interesting, well it does if you have an interest in language and use of words, as I have.
Everything the lady uttered was regularly punctuated with the phrase, You know what I mean?, but it of course it sounded more like, Know-warra-mean? which is, having fewer syllables, much easier to slip in. I was so fascinated by the number of these interjections she managed, that, just to pass the time, I thought I might look at my watch and see how many she could achieve in a fixed time. I thought that a five-minute sample might be a good indicator.
My results: I counted thirty Know-warra-mean?s in my carefully timed sample. I did a quick bit of mental calculation, that’s an average of six per minute, or one every ten seconds – that’s not bad going is it? You can see why I was drawn into all this can’t you?
The funny thing was of course that no one ever responded with, ‘Yes, I do know what you mean…’
After my scientific observation I got a bit bored with the whole thing – I put my noise cancelling headphones on and listened to some J. S. Bach played on harpsichord – his Italian Concerto is very clever and calming on occasions like this…
(J. S. Bach)