By Robin Garrison Leach
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is a lot of LOOKING going on. Just turn on any news show (if you dare) and turn up the volume when politicians are replying to questions.
All a commentator has to do is ask how the person being interviewed felt or thought about a controversial topic. His or her response almost always begins the same…
Now, I’m not opposed to using a word or phrase to get the conversation going. This has been the tradition of anyone preparing to expound on a topic that is of real or imagined importance.
Old men have used this tactic for centuries. A long tale of long-ago adventures or wise advice always begins with one:
That WELL lets you know the story is going to be lengthy, lethargically told, and possibly embroidered with tattered details.
“Hey, Grandpa. How far did you walk to school (uphill) in the winter?”
“WELL, son, it wasn’t easy—let me tell you. And the winters were brutal from October to April…”
Settle in for a tobacco spittin’, gol-darn recitation on moments no human should have had to endure, much less good old Grandpa.
More sentence starters have littered our language; the variants are sometimes regional and often common to families.
“YA KNOW” is big where I come from. If somebody says YA KNOW, you know to lean back against the tailgate of the truck and get ready for some downhome recollections.
“YA KNOW…I used to climb trees all the time when I was a kid. We’d find one that had a lower limb we could reach and just start right up.”
YA KNOW is also a go-to for anyone feeling compelled to share advice.
“YA KNOW…if I was you, I’d think twice about getting your eyebrows waxed. It’s really painful.”
“I TELL YOU WHAT” is big in the South; the first time I heard it I was in junior high. Stacy Bates, who’d moved here from Alabama, began nearly every conversation we shared with “I TELL YOU WHAT.”.
I hadn’t asked “WHAT”, and I was mesmerized.
Old gangster movies pepper their dialog with lots of “SEE HERE” s in the beginning and “SEE”s throughout the following threats. It was as if they were daring the listener to visualize how they were gonna pulverize them.
“LISTEN” is common to many explainers; I wonder if they had been ignored as children and needed to command the attention of anyone around before they spewed words of instruction or dire warnings.
“LISTEN. You don’t know me!” No, and I’m not listening.
Others: “MAKE NO MISTAKE”. “HERE’S THE THING”. “IF I MAY”. All nervous beginnings to expositions that will undoubtedly be met with condescension or inattention.
But of all these introductory phrases, “LOOK” is taking center stage right now in the news world.
The host asks the question:
“Governor WHOMEVER, can you explain how this happened?”
The governor responds with his signature word:
And there he goes. He rattles off an answer that will involve listening on the receiver’s part, but he thinks that by saying LOOK we will not LISTEN too closely.
“Mayor SOANDSO, what is your take on the matter?”
The LOOK phrase has begun to sound as sly as “IN MY HONEST OPINION”. It is grating; it also lets me know that what is about to be said will often be relayed with a defensive tone.
“Look. We knew this was a possibility.”
“Look. We’re working as night and day to get that done.”
The next time you hear someone being interviewed on TV, LISTEN for the LOOK that has become the opening word of the year.
I tell ya what. It’s driving me crazy. Ya know what I mean?
Contact Robin at firstname.lastname@example.org