Art Chenoweth

Spring term now has progressed into its third week and I find myself relatively content with my classes. All my rooms have good acoustics. Their temperatures are set at comfortable levels. The professors are sustaining congeniality and interest, demanding about the right amount of challenge. I feel harmonious with all my classmates and highly interested in the subject matter.

But there are no perfect worlds and I do feel annoyance at some aspects of my current class situation.

I find myself in one class with a “you know” addict. This woman talks frequently and cogently, but torpedoes the value of her comments by riddling her sentences with “you know” every fifth word. Every minute of this abrades my nerves about as badly as scraping that fingernail on a slate blackboard.

It amazes me that some university students do not understand the importance of speaking plainly, clearly and succinctly if they expect to communicate their ideas effectively to their fellow students. It is not really that difficult. For starters, they need to form their words separately, rather than running them all together in one homogenous string. Last term I took one class in which a woman spoke so rapidly and crowded her words together so unintelligibly that even the professor finally yelled at her to “slow down.” She did to some degree. Then we realized the reason she spoke so rapidly may have been that her opinions and observations made almost no sense.

This spring term I am happily not struggling to understand any student who almost deliberately masks the voice. I have been in classes where students talked while holding their hands over their mouths. Last term I had to contend with a man who always held a scarf against the front of his mouth when he spoke.

I can experience confusion but not resentment against people with some of these ineffective speech habits. However, I cringe physically at the “you know” abusers, along with the “like” people, like you know. And there are far too many of the “uh” brigade, who can’t get through one sentence without a string of “uhs” to break up the continuity. I almost feel like yelling, “For God’s sake, get on with it.”

This “you know” woman in one of my classes has especially grated on my consciousness. She uses more “you knows” than any person I can recall since the infamous television interviews with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

I am pleased to note that the “like” crowd seems to be thinning out, after many years of dominating our speech patterns. The “uh” crowd is not. I remind myself of my repugnance to “uh” people when I occasionally watch Portland Cable Access. On that channel, virtually every self-styled television star sabotages the delivery with endless “uhs.” Sure, I know Homer Simpson says “duh,” which is meaningless, but he never inserts the superfluous “uh.” Many of these Public Access emoters are probably wondering why professional television doesn’t “discover” them.

Although I normally find little interest in the programming on KBOO radio, I occasionally tune in to see what they’re up to. What they’re up to is a torrent of “uhs” from their on-air talent. This immediately takes the station out of the professional category.

Students need to keep in mind that no matter what their post-graduation career future may be, it will require speaking in such a way that people understand them and do not become annoyed by their speech patterns. The university classroom is a good place to learn not only the subject matter, but how to communicate one’s response to it in an effective manner. Of course, if you visualize your future career in Public Access television or on KBOO radio, don’t bother to improve your vocal delivery. You won’t fit in.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. I don’t hate people who speak poorly in class; I don’t even scorn them. I may tune them out or in some cases reluctantly give up on processing their contributions. As a consequence, I am deprived of what may be valuable insights. So, in urging better speaking from some students, I am pleading for my own better understanding of what’s going on.

Of my current classes, I feel insecure about one, because it calls for a team project. I know, the faculty says we have to learn to work as teams because that’s the way they do it in the outside world. I have enough horror stories about PSU team projects to fill a column. I participated in only one that almost succeeded. Each member of the team took a specific topic to develop and speak on for a maximum of 10 minutes. All went well until the last speaker babbled on inanely for like a full half hour, effectively like anaesthetizing the audience, you know?