“When he gets started his tongue is like a racehorse; it runs fastest the less weight it carries.” — Franklin Pierce Adams, US writer
The glib tongue of an official spokesperson often confuses the impressionable audience. It is worse when there are several spokespersons giving vague statements. They use words and statistics that are excessive but mean nothing. (High fallutin’ nonsense to be polite.)
The French have a phrase: “Revenons à nos moutons” (Let us come back to our sheep.) Its interpretation is “Let’s get back to the main point.”
Observe how verbose grandstanding politicians and civic leaders are when the TV cameras are whirring. Suddenly, they project and emote as though they were acting in a TV show or a stage play. (Not that they could all be considered credible.)
The orators project their well-modulated voices and dramatize their long-winded sentences with exclamation points!!!
A few speakers are entertaining and witty. Others are boring, bland characters who have a captive (albeit reluctant) audience (Ho hum.) They wear themselves thin while their listeners tune out. Some hyperventilate and gesticulate madly.
At plenary sessions, the non-verbal ones tend to keep quiet, pretend to listen, scribble notes or fantasize. The verbosity of their colleagues put them to sleep.
Sir Winston Churchill once described Lord Charles Beresford thus: “He is one of those orators of whom is well said, ‘Before they get up, they know what they are going to say; when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, they do not know what they have said.’”
A few OTT (over the top) caricatures have exaggerated facial quirks — raising eyebrows, flaring nostrils, twitching ears, or jutting lips. When they speak, they grin. It is a poor camouflage for the smirk, sneer, and the snobbish sniff.
Turn off the volume and watch the circus on TV. It is entertaining without all the noise.
Most political animals master the art of saying a lot that does not mean anything. Everything is calculated for the right effect and response. Loquacious speakers — at a town fiesta, a campaign sortie, and a wake or a funeral service are always so boring. Eulogies are delivered with overextended pages of long paragraphs.
They could be condensed into two sentences. The same recycled speech extolling the virtues of the departed sound like broken records from a past era. “Mr. Z was an honorable man… He was my best friend.” (Even if the speaker had a long history of unpaid personal loans with the deceased.)
Abraham Lincoln once commented about a talkative politician. “He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas better than any man I ever met.” A witty, subtle but withering remark.
“Thomas Macaulay is like a book in breeches. He has occasional flashes of silence, that make his conversation perfectly delightful,” a British clergyman Sydney Smith, once wrote.
We just look around the office, family gathering, church or institution. (Social events and fundraisers are good places.) We can recognize these composite characters immediately.
The boss who holds court at the office and regales his underling with the same stories ad infinitum.
The lecturer and religious evangelist whose lengthy speeches and homilies lull people to sleep. Inflicting others with so many details is so tedious.
The well-meaning zealot who tries to convert everyone to his religious sect or cult.
At a party, the parent who praises his own superior offspring. (Even with bragging rights, there is a limit to praise.)
The tycoon “wannabe” or the “has been” who talks about himself. The Ivy League degrees, exotic safaris, mansions, art collections, estate jewelry…
The condescending self-made professional who basks in his achievements but disparages his less successful colleagues. His speeches are peppered with “I, me, myself.” At panel discussions, he holds the microphone and gabs — to the dismay of the other panelists and the moderator.
The professor-scientist-teacher who enumerates his inventions, and expounds his ideas and philosophical theories. As the saying goes, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
The sportsman with expensive toys and trophies — fancy golf and tennis equipment, polo ponies, yacht, helicopter, and cars. Conspicuous consumption is tasteless. Bragging about it with descriptions and hefty price tags is worse.
At a symphonic concert, the music critic Henry Taylor Parker, known by his initials “HTP” (“Hell to Pay”), was so irritated by the windbags seated near him. He turned to his noisy neighbors and hissed, “Those people onstage are making such a noise, I cannot hear a word you are saying!”
Tallulah Bankhead was legendary for her volubility. She was described as “…more of an act than an actress.” After an interview, magician Fred Keating commented, “I’ve just spent an hour talking to Tallulah for a few minutes.”
At the end of a very long lecture, one might wonder: what the whole thing was about. What was the point?
To the confused and bewildered, one should remember an old quote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.