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January 7, 2009

Obviously, You Know…

Filed under: General,Opinion — Steve Hamlin @ 10:19 am

Observations on linguistic crutches and other pet peeves.

Barack Obama’s election and subsequent cabinet selection have created some interesting situations and thrown some people into the national spotlight. Among these are Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich and his appointment to fill Obama’s Senate seat, Roland Burris. Another is Caroline Kennedy, who would like to fill Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat, should she be accepted as Secretary of State.

Caroline Kennedy has taken some heat for her repeated use of ‘you know’ in her public speaking since throwing her hat in the ring. There have been numerous columns written and videos aired documenting her extreme and annoying overuse of the phrase. One website claims that in a recent interview lasting a little over two minutes, she used the phrase either 138 or 144 times (she must have mumbled on some of them).

The same website goes on to point out that Ms. Kennedy hosted the ‘Kennedy Center Honors’ program and didn’t use the phrase once. Unlike the interview, where she was speaking off the cuff, she had the benefit of choosing her words in advance for that program. Since the Kennedy Center program was aired live, after her interview was publicly lambasted, it seems to me she must have heard the criticism.

Yesterday, as I watched CNN’s coverage of Roland Burris’ attempt to be sworn in as Illinois’ junior Senator, I couldn’t help but notice the frequency of use of the word ‘obviously’ by the various reporters. It was especially glaring in light of the criticism that had so recently been leveled at Caroline Kennedy by some of those same people.

In my thoroughly unscientific sampling, I’d say that fully half of the reporters and both of the anchors that I watched repeatedly qualified statements or observations they made with the word ‘obviously’. That begs the question, if it’s so obvious, why are they devoting so much time to it?

Of course (or obviously), the situations being reported on weren’t obvious. They were developing stories. Some people might be able to accurately predict how they would unfold, but not me.

The reporters were using the word as a crutch – a transition between thoughts or a gap-filler. I understand that. Most of us do the same thing, but most of us don’t talk for a living.

In a world where dead air is inexcusable and where people are expected to speak knowledgably, or at least intelligently about any topic that may arise, apparently even those professional talking heads fall back on comfort words. I have to wonder though, isn’t there somebody at CNN who notices how often it happens?

Obviously not.

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