Thursday 08 Dec 2016

Well, Well
Sjef Frenken

"I thought you weren't supposed to eat those," said Jack, pointing at my New York Fries.

I said "I only eat them once in a while."

Jack said "That's twice in a while you've eaten them this month. Don't blame me if your arteries get clogged up."

I said "Jack, I hereby absolve you of all blame in the event of my untimely demise as a result of eating these fries. But not for the general aggravation you cause me by constantly referring to my proclivity toward French Fries."

We chewed for a while.

Jack said "Have you noticed some of the billboards on the side of the busses lately?"

I said "No, why?"

Jack said "There's one that says 'Turn your knob to Bob'."

I said "I gather there are quite a few radio stations that have baptized themselves Bob or Jack or something. It's a fad, a passing thing. It's odd though, I haven't heard of any station calling itself by a women's name -- Rachel, Sally or Bernice... Why any station would want to call itself by a personal name anyway is beyond me. Probably the brainchild of a desperate advertising agency. I think ...."

Jack interrupted me "I think you miss my point: TURN...YOUR...KNOB...TO...BOB. You don't notice anything funny?"

I said "Jack, now you put it that way, it does sound a little homo-erotic, doesn't it? Anyhow, I don't listen much to radio. Too many other things to do that require my attention. I used to listen to CBC TWO, but that too is getting harder and harder to listen to."

"Too high-brow for you?" asked Jack.

I said "No. It's just that many of the program hosts sound as if the microphone is shoved down their throat, right up to their tonsils. When they inhale and exhale, it's as if they're in the last stages of emphysema. Why don't the producers notice that?"

"Maybe the engineers are using compressors, trying to get maximum strength into their signal. Maybe it's the CBC way of letting the audience know that their announcers are still alive." said Jack, who is no fan of the CBC. On the other hand he is no fan of private radio either.

"Speaking of announcers," said Jack, "have you noticed that when Leno and Letterman do a man-in-the-street, or in the case of Letterman a man-in-the-aisle type of interview, they almost always repeat the answer of the person being interviewed?"

I said "My turn: have you ever noticed that experts being questioned by an interviewer virtually always begin their answer with the word 'well'?"

Jack said "I guess it gives them a fraction of a second extra time to think up an evasive answer."

I said "That's what my friend George, who knows a lot about such matters, also thinks. But I don't agree. I think it's a combination of two things -- first I think it's like the phrase 'I have control' that pilots use when they hand over control of an aircraft; it's a sign that the interviewee now has the stage and is not to be interrupted. And second, that it warns the interviewer and audience that the answer may be shaded as the reply goes on."

"What do you mean?" asked Jack.

I said "Well, I..."

"Aha!" said Jack, "You're doing it yourself!"

"And for a good reason." I said, "I was going to give you an example of what I meant. For instance, if someone asked me if I believed in evolution, I could say "Yes, I ... and so on. I could also say "Well, yes, I ...' Do you notice the difference? The second one is a little less assured, it signals that there may be a qualification or two coming. Do you get it?"

Jack said "Well ... yes ...."

I said "Jack, are you pulling my leg?"

Jack said "'Yes, ...' or maybe 'Well, yes ....'"

And that, as you can probably understand, was pretty well the end of that enlightening lunchtime interchange.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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