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Speed speak, is it?

Food For Thought

I keep getting cards and letters in my mail, offering me special deals on hearing tests and hearing aids. I don’t know where these people get their mailing lists, but someone has found out I’m 82 and might be hard of hearing. I don’t think I have a problem in that regard, although there are a couple situations where I don’t always hear clearly what someone is saying. One situation in which I have trouble hearing, or understanding, what someone is saying is when there is a lot of background noise, as at a party where there is music playing or several groups of people talking at once. But that has always been a problem for me. And I know a couple people who have the habit of dropping their voice at the end of a sentence, so I often miss the last word or two. But I’m pretty sure that’s not because my hearing is at fault.
The other situation which has become evident much more recently involves my hearing clearly things said over the telephone or on the radio or TV. It’s not so much that I can’t hear voices clearly, but it is an ever-increasing struggle to catch all the words because so many people talk too fast. I tend to think of it as Speed-speaking, as compared to Speed-reading, which I haven’t heard much about lately.
There was a time when many people tried to learn to read so rapidly that they could read a book almost as fast as they could turn the pages. There were even classes to teach you how to do that. Most of the people I knew, who attempted to master this skill, said although they learned to grasp the essence of the things they read by this method, they generally missed a lot, and there was no pleasure in reading a story or a poem in that fashion. One friend likened it to playing a 33 rpm record of your favorite song on a 78 rpm record player. I find that simile quite appropriate to the current trend toward talking at warp speed.
I first became aware of speed-speaking when it became a requirement for advertisers of certain products to include all warnings, precautions and side-effects in television commercials. It took so much time to recite that long list that commercials didn’t fit in the allotted time, so advertisers solved the problem by hiring people who could talk very fast, but still, supposedly, clearly enough to be understood by the average television viewer. Within a few years, the producers of news programs and talk shows began to realize more information could be crowded into a half-hour program if everybody talked faster– not as fast as in those commercials, but still quite a bit more rapidly than ordinary conversation.
Of course, our younger generation was quick to latch on to this new way of communicating, and it has become the normal speed for speech for a large segment of our population. I hear it more and more consistently in those recorded telephone sales pitches and messages on answering machines. Not that I’m upset about not understanding what is being said, but it usually begins as a blast of rapid speech that’s over with so fast I’m not sure just what I was hearing. I guess I’m trying to say the message doesn’t have time to “soak in,” it’s just too aggressive at the onset and too abruptly over with. I don’t have time to figure out just what I’m hearing before it’s over and I’m not sure what I heard. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed my grandchildren and great-grandchildren seem to be picking up the habit and I wonder if, in the not-too-distant future, I’ll find I can no longer understand what they’re saying. Before long, I’ll be saying, “What? What was that you said, dear? I didn’t quite catch it.” And they’ll be thinking, “Poor old Grandma, she’s going deaf and she’s too proud to get a hearing aid.” So they’ll begin to talk louder, thinking volume is the problem when it’s actually a matter of speed-speaking. And, next thing you know, they’ll be shouting (which always sounds like anger) when all they need to do is slow down a bit.
I sometimes watch some of the reruns of old television programs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I have no trouble understanding them. They don’t talk any louder, only slower. I sincerely hope this trend toward fast talking is temporary– a passing fad. Though, come to think of it, some of those fads have a way of raising their ugly heads again when we least expect it. Have you noticed all the extra hair so many women, especially those on TV, seem to have acquired lately? Everybody seems to have sprouted impossible mops of long, thick hair with curls cascading over shoulders and down their backs. Shades of Farrah Fawcett!