Why you speak so proper?

I spend quite a bit of time at the bowling alley where I work.  Even if I’m not working, I bowl there a couple of times a week, and often I’ll stay after work a little bit to sit and talk to some of my friends there.  So about a week ago, I was asked (what I thought was) a very odd question by one of the younger girls who bowls there and who I help coach (she’s 13 or 14).  She asked me why I talk so proper?  (Using those exact words, to be fair, it was in a text message, but still, she could have said properly right?)

I had a similar situation come up a couple of days later, when I was working with one of my co-workers to outline a paper that she was assigned for one of her classes in school.  There were a couple of times when she stopped me and asked me to explain what I meant, or when she asked me what a particular word that I used meant.  She had also mentioned in the past that I sound so intelligent when I speak.  I quickly answered this by asking why?  While I occasionally use throw a big word around, overall I use fairly simple language.  So once again I’m going to assume that it’s because of the way that I structure my sentences when I’m speaking to people.

I’m not trying to denigrate my friends, they both simply noticed that I talk differently than most other people.  I will say that I was a bit puzzled by it, because I don’t think I talk strange.  After mentioning this to my dad last night, he came up with a couple possible reasons why my speech is strange enough to warrant comment.  The first is simply because one of the people who was commenting on my speech was a 13 or 14 year old girl who survives via texting and could probably go a week straight using nothing but 3 letter acronyms.  Fair enough.  The second thing he considered was simply that I read all the time.  Naturally reading as much as I do will end up giving me a slightly higher level of vocabulary, but more than that it teaches you how to structure a sentence.

I think I’ve got a third reason for why I speak the way I do.  When it really comes down to it, I love language, and I love the way it can be used.  I can also say exactly where this comes from.  George Carlin.

I don’t know how often I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I love stand up comedy.  And for my money, the single greatest stand up comedian of all time is George Carlin.  (Even those who don’t think he is the best generally list him as one of the top 3 comedians of all time, with Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, the order is debatable and really doesn’t matter because those three are so far above every other comedian in terms of cultural significance it doesn’t matter.  The only other comedian I can think of who comes close to the impact those three have had is Jeff Foxworthy.)

Carlin of course was hilariously funny, but the real beauty and quality in his stand up comes from the way that he played with words.  There are quite a few comedians who are great the first time you watch them, but they’re talking about topical issues and their comedy won’t stand up over time.  As much as I like some of what he does, Lewis Black falls into this category.  He largely discusses political issues, and as a result much of his material won’t stand up over time.  You’ll have people who fondly remember it, but it won’t be able to bring in a new audience.  Compare that to Carlin’s material.  Yes he occasionally dips into real world issues, but most of his material falls into things that will be the same for humans for hundreds of years.  Go listen to A Place for my Stuff (which Carlin released in 1981).  It’s 30 years old at this point but it’s still just as relevant today as it was when it came out, perhaps more so.

If you listen to his stand up over time, or if you listen to some interviews that he had, you really start to see the love that Carlin had for words, and for the english language.  Listening to Carlin over the years has given me an appreciation for language that I don’t think can ever be replaced by anything else.  I’m sure that the books I read play a part in the way I speak, just as I’m sure that my age and my education factors into it.  But beneath those, I think having discovered Carlin years ago really taught me to appreciate words and the power that they have.  Sadly, I was never able to see Carlin live before he died.  But fortunately, he left us with hundreds of hours of video to watch.  And all of it is just as funny now as the day he wrote it.

Some Carlin routines (some of these will be explicit, you’ve been warned).

A Place for my Stuff

Food Advertising

The Ten Commandments

George Carlin interviewed by Jon Stewart

Obviously these are only a few of his hundreds and thousands of routines that you can find of his online.

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  1. Oh I love Carlin…that man could make me laugh and laugh. A few weeks ago I went to a comedy club and had a ton of fun. And I agree with you, reading does expand your vocabulary and love of language. I’ve been reading a ton of Dickens and that man has introduced me so many new words.

    • I suppose I never thought that an adult vocabulary would be strange enough to attract attention.

  2. And then there’s the point of no return when friends stop wanting to play word games with you because you always win… 😉

  3. The amount you read has a lot to do with this. Loving language, words, sentence structure, and reading all go hand-in-hand. It goes without saying that the more one reads, the more words one will know and be able to use in everyday conversation.

  4. I really like George Carlin, too. I’ve a book or two of his jokes. I’ll never forget the one about the airplane. Every time I fly, I think of “pre-boarding” (board the plane before you board the plane?) “seat backs” and “air marshalls”. Such a great comedian!

    • The way he played with words was so brilliant. All of the little inconsistencies of our language that we all take for granted he took and ran with. That’s a big part of why his routines from so long ago are still funny, because intelligent humor never gets old.

  5. I really enjoyed Carlin too, though your appreciation and clips take it even deeper.

  6. Growing up in the south, I used to get asked that all the time. Actually, most of the time, it came out sounding like a threat. What I eventually figured out was that at no time did they think my speech was odd. Instead, it was their way of saying, “I don’t like that you don’t sound ignorant.” People try to dumb down speech when the alternative is learning to spell well. I used to just shrug and say, “I just sound like I read a lot.” Probably not the best answer. Carlin was brilliant, though he seemed to get angrier with age.

    • Carlin definitely seemed to get more cynical as he aged, which is something that tends to happen to a lot of us.

      I’ve never had it sound like a threat when people comment on my speech, but I still find it strange that decent language is strange enough to attract comment.


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