"Since last fall," writes Dorothy A. Cox, "I have been listening to various talks shows on radio.
"I can hardly believe the misuse of our beautiful language that I hear.
"Worse yet, many callers are unable to articulate their thoughts. Some, unable to finish the sentence they were trying to put together, are forced to give up before they really explain what they have in mind. At this rate of deterioration in our ability to express ourselves, the time may soon come when we will be unable to communicate except at the most elementary level."
I agree, Dorothy, and this is why I have not become a talk show fan. On my way from work, I sometimes listen to Larry King because I think his program is the best of the limited fare available in the middle of the night. But my basic objection to talk shows remains. The Listener must endure too many inarticulate callers for each one who is worth listening to.
King's program is helped considerably by its format. In the first hours of his show, he interviews a guest. He is not the world's greatest interviewer, but neither is he a dunce. He's been at it a long time, and he's interesting enough to keep from falling asleep at the wheel.
But when it's time for listeners to begin calling in, the caliber of the program drops markedly. I don't have much patience with people who can't put together a sentence without using three y'knows. And I find it boring to listen to those who keep repeating themselves -- usuallyy with information that wasn't even pertinent to the discussion the first time around.
However, we should not single out talk show callers for critism. Inability to communicate is not a monopoly of theirs. Most Americans find it difficult to express themselves in a simple and grammatical manner. We'd all sound a lot better if we were working from a script.
I have been a professional communicator for many years. I have conducted innumerable and lib interviews on radio TV. I have made hundreds of speeches without a script. But if you could see the first draft of one of my columns you'd wonder how I ever got this job or have managed to hold on to it. When I say that most Americans find it difficult to express themselves properly, it is, alas, well known to me that I am part of that inept majority.
William J. F. O'Neill of the National Geographic passes along a true story about a woman who was quite ill in a Pennsylvania hospital.
One evening, while her husband was visiting, her brother-in-law and his wife also dropped in. The brother-in-law is a doctor, so he routinely picked up a bottle of pills at the woman's bedside to check on her medication. "Good heavens," he exclaimed. "How long have you been taking these?"
"For three days," the patient replied. "Ever since i've been here. The nurses make sure I take them regularly. Why do you aks?"
Without responding, the doctor went rushing out of the room, pill bottle in hand. The patient and her husband look blankly at each other and waited for the brother-in-law return. When he finally appeared, there was half a smile on his lips, but it appeared he had strained to put it there. "I guess everything will be all right now," the doctor said. "For the pass three days you have been taking the medicine intended for this lady in the other bed, ad she has been taking the medicine you were supposed to have."
Is it any wonder there are so many malpractice suits? As Gold's law makes clear, "A hospital is no place for sick people."
A recent comic panel by Guindon showed a man in dark glasses trying to sell a can of something to another man. The underlines informed us that the seller was saying, "It's 10W 40 and it's only been stepped on twice." Mrs. Morton A. Olman of Silver Spring sent me a clipping of the cartoon and a note that said, "I give up. What is this supposed to mean?"
When I first saw the cartoon, I thought I understood the joke, but I wasn't sure. So I went around our newsroom in an effort to find somebody who could give Mrs. Olman an authentic answer. I had no luck.
Finally, I acted on my original hunch and put the question to a modish lad of about 19. "Didn't you get it?" he chided. "The 10W 40 means it's good grade of motor oil, and 'stepped on' is a term used in the drug culture. It means the oil has been 'cut' or diluted only twice. You older guys don't know much about current evens, do you?"
True. But most of us know enough to avoid the drug scene. We may be a little slow, but we're not stupid.