Big Words Don’t Make You Seem Smart

I’m very sorry sir but that particular extension is down at the moment, do you mind if I place you on hold while I locate a representative who can provide further assistance to you today?

This is what the heavily accented woman tried to say. I don’t think many of the words are typical to her dialect except in these exact phrases. What came out was a beautiful Tennessee twang with a mouthful of bubblegum but nothing as clear as the following:

that agent is not there, I’ll find another. Would you wait a moment?

I find the same thing at airports:

Good afternoon, American Airlines would like your attention in the concourse for important information about American Airlines Flight number 471 with service today from London Heathrow to San Francisco California. We’d like to continue boarding by rows, and ask anyone holding a boarding pass and seated in rows 40 and higher to approach the gate agent…

This long phrase is rattled off without thinking by gate agents; looking around, you see other agents from other airlines patiently waiting for this lengthy announcement to finish before inhaling deeply and dishing out their own Shakespearean soliloquy.

Seriously, it’s bad enough with accents in your own language (and some english is barely that) but worse if you’re a foreigner trying hard to hear the details you need to board the plane.

American 471 San Francisco at gate 57 boarding rows 40 and higher

All six people in the entire airport who may be offended by this coarse, direct speech can fly another 50 flights before rendering an opinion. Seriously.

Consider how people who have learned only a little english speak: “I want eat dinner” or “this taxi go Eiffel tower, yes?” See how there are no silly fluffy filler words, yet the meaning is understood? See how there’s no extra words to confuse things? See how it’s so brief, it’s basically punctuation and key words.

Key words.

When they’re most of the content, they stand out even more.

That’s like more signal/meaning within the noise of blah blah blah announcements.

On a similar note, I met an elderly couple who had never flown. I had to help them with seatbelts: I sat beside them, heard the same ridiculously complex announcement, their grasp of the english language left them unsure of what to do. They probably would have preferred a more direct speech within the airport as well.

Be direct, be clear, be brief. Get the point across, and use words you’ve used before. Talk slowly when addressing the very elderly and the addle-brained — the rest of us are aging as you Soliloquize the blah blah parts. You done yet?


Languages Greater-Than

In a strange side-effect of my travel, I pick up a bit of the languages where I stay for any amount of time.

My Chinese (not Cantonese, but Mandarin, from the other 22 provinces of China) is sufficient skill to bark at a taxi driver, but not so good.

Funny, it’s better than the chinese guy I just spoke to at the delivery joint — even using the Chinese name for things was not understood. Granted, my Chinese might be *that* bad… but “Is that Kung-Pow Chicken, is it Guangdong or Beijing Style?” and “well, is it Cantonese, or is it like real Gong-bao Ji-ding? (宫宝鸡丁)” seem difficult to butcher. The poor guy didn’t make sense of the terms.

It would be ironic to brag about such little skill — I’m not posting this to brag about my non-skill at a language, just the oddity that it exceeds the skill of a Chinese-sounding guy (who sounds a bit like a Golden Boy).

I guess it’s true: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king — when everyone sucks, a slightly less suckage is still “better”…