I am fascinated by the way people talk. So much about our character, our education, our view of the world, is revealed when we converse.
It is often possible to determine what a person is about to say, as well as what she expects from you in return, based on the way she introduces her topic of choice. Assembled below are a few commonly-used conversational previews, and my people-watching, lingustics-studying take on them:
This is hilarious! You’re going to die laughing at this, it is so funny!
There is an inverse relationship between the actual humor of a person’s tale (if such a thing could be quantified) and the number of times the storyteller feels the need to overtly come out and say just how very funny it is. If an anecdote is actually amusing, it will be obvious. This one – not actually amusing.
So check this sh!t out…
Stories that begin with this phrase are:
1) typically told by a redneck (or at least someone with a strong family history of redneckiness),
2) always awesome
3) often include a visual aid such as a fresh wound.
Your role as the listener: Give this speaker your undivided attention.
Can I talk to you for a minute? (variation: Can we speak privately for a moment?)
This is code for “I have some bad and/or life-altering news.” It is the lightening that flashes seconds before the thunder. A conversational partner will typically reserve this phrase for prefacing the announcement of an unplanned pregnancy, termination of employment, or potentially-fatal illness.
Your role as the listener: Brace yourself. Decide quickly if you want your response to be dignified or histrionic. (I typically decide on the former, then switch to the later at the exact moment that my mouth opens.)
Does this make me sound like a horrible person?
This person has done something that is in poor taste, and her story will, in fact, make her sound like a horrible person. Maybe she called her loving husband an imbecile because he folded the towels incorrectly, or maybe she told her kids that they couldn’t eat anything after dinner and then hid in the garage and ate the last Little Debbie. She wants someone to validate her behavior and, thus, relieve her guilt. Why has she chosen you? Because Birds of a feather…, that’s why.
Your role as the listener: Say something nice about her victim, but then validate her behavior. “Gosh, Susan, Charles seems like such a kind husband. But yeah, he shouldn’t have folded the towels like that. That was really stupid of him.”
You might be able to explain this:
This person is about to ask you a question grossly related to your profession. People that use this phrase when talking to me usually ask me something about speech problems of distant, non-present relatives whom I’ve never met. (e.g. “Ginger, you might be able to explain this: why does my nephew always repeat the first word of every sentence three times? Do you think he has a stuttering problem or something? What should my sister do about it?”)
This person has a question about a group to which you (but not she) are a member. (e.g. asked by a friend from another country: “Ginger, you might be able to explain this: why don’t Americans study geography in school?”)
Your role as a listener: Prepare and provide a general answer that wont embarrass the rest of the people in your circle. (For the record, I cannot diagnose your nephew’s speech impairment and/or come up with a home program for you to relay to his mother sight-unseen, and Americans do study geography. Just not very much. Or very well.)
Hey… (looks to the left and right, then leans in more closely)
One of three things is about to be told to you: 1) Gossip about someone in close proximity, 2) Surprise-party plans for someone in close proximity, or 3) Details regarding a recently-committed crime on the part of the speaker.
Your role as a listener: Visually scan the room. Act cool.
Sorry, quick question:
This phrase is universally reserved by employees who are interrupting their very busy bosses with potentially annoying questions. The “sorry,” coupled with the promise of expediency, is suppose to negate the effects of having interrupted her train of thought. But it doesn’t. And it will take her a full five minutes to get back in the grove after you leave. I try not to do this, and I always fail. I am full of quick questions. And quick follow-up questions.