On Enunciation

February was a strange and fairly intense month, and I’m finding it hard to put it into perspective.

Much of my personal experience of the strangeness has been powered by perimenopause, which can, to be clear, suck it. (For those of you reading this whose hormones have played viciously with your emotional, physical and/or mental health, I see you.)

I’ll try to make sense of it all by looking at one wee experience.

I was asked to do a bit of voiceover for an organization I’m involved with, for a virtual event. I’d never really done this kind of thing before, and here’s what I found really cool about it:

When recording the voiceover, I had to speak way way way more slowly than my usual New-Yorker speed. I’ve done a lot of public speaking, and the feedback I’ve always been given is to slooooow down. Yeah yeah. I get super jacked up with people in a room, but for voiceover, staring at a table full of electronics with only another (masked) person in sight, it was easy to be slow. That was a cool experience, to know I could just do that.

But this is not another the pandemic has taught us to slow down missive. We do not need one more of those. This is nerdier than that.

I talk weirdly and always have. It’s cool, I don’t say this fishing for assurances. I have an innate tendency to enunciate maybe a little more than is normal, and to use odd words, and I feel no self-consciousness about it.

Doing the voiceover, though, involved enunciating even more.

Do you know what’s super easy to say in casual conversation but difficult to say with clear enunciation? “Just think.” When we say that normally, we don’t actually let that “t” in “just” ring out. But in voiceover, slurring those words together sounds terrible, so you have to do the unnatural and say “jusT” “think”. You have to put a tiny pause between those words to let the “t” do its thing without being swallowed by the “th” of “think.”

And here’s the cool part: Listening to the recording, it didn’t sound dumb or unnatural. I mean, it sounded hyper-enunciated, but it also sounded like every dish-soap commercial I’ve ever heard (that’s what I felt like I was doing during the recording, by the way, as if at any moment I would utter, “Palmolive: softens hands while you do dishes.”).

Those tiny sounds we naturally slur or swallow matter (I mean, they matter when we slur and swallow them, too, which is why linguistics and the psychology of language comprehension have always fascinated me).

So yes yes, slowing down and paying attention to the details. But also this: those tiny details matter, whether we pay attention to them or not. Whether we just think or Just Think.

I’m sick of being slowed down. I want to feel the exhaustion at the end of a day of working and schlepping my kid around and sorting out meals and having meetings around town and running errands and seeing friends.

I want to wake up in the morning and not have my brain play “I Got You Babe” because I can’t shake the Groundhog Day feeling.

I want to get on a plane and see my family. I want to get on a plane and see my business partner. I want to go to a fibre festival and smell sheep and feel wool and hug strangers.

I want all the plosives and fricatives and glides of our everyday words to pile up into something that’s meaningful outside of the walls of my damn house. And I want to see people’s facial expressions and see their gesticulations and have it all combine into something that doesn’t take so much damn concentration to make sense of through a screen.

Maybe it seemed like I’d conclude with something about the importance of the tiny details, but ha ha no. I’m going to conclude with an appreciation of how our default, ordinary, beautiful way of communicating is full of slurred and garbled mouth sounds. We pause infrequently between words, did you know that? That’s our normal, default way of speaking, and it’s one of the reasons it’s challenging to start to learn a new language—we find it impossible to tell when one word ends and another begins.

It’s a freaking miracle that we can understand each other in normal, casual speech.

So yes, there may be times when enunciating clearly is super important (and, to be clear, when speaking with someone who doesn’t know our language very well, that can be very helpful to them, along with slowing down [but not, obviously, speaking louder; that’s just obnoxious]).

For now, I just can’t wait till we can get back to all the lazy ways we blow each other’s mind by finding shared meaning.

I’m going to go knit something and not talk to anyone for a while.


We’ve got March discussion threads going for deluxe subscribers (a day early, because March can’t come too soon):

One about books, and one about crafts.

Come hang out and chat!

Items of Note

  • Do you do punch needle embroidery? Should I? Let me know.

  • Speaking of embroidery. OMG.

  • This exploration of scale in amigurumi. I am here for this.

  • I have been cutting my own hair since August. Given that my chief complaint about almost every haircut I’ve gotten for twenty years is that it wasn’t cut to be messy enough, I have now learned that I will likely continue to cut my own hair for the rest of my life, because it turns out all I’ve ever wanted is a haircut performed by someone with very little skill. This is quite honestly one of the best insights I’ve gained in the last year.

    • Yes, I just completed the inevitable end to this project, by cutting my hair short in the back. Very short. I am so. happy. My bathroom is an absolute mess of hair.

  • How to alter a book into an art journal.

  • Solid goal.

    • Mental note: “Solid Goaled” is the name of my next blog.

  • Our weekly video hang-outs are now held on Discord (instead of Zoom), on Thursdays at 1:30pm Pacific / 4:30pm Eastern Time. Simply enter the Community Hangout voice channel, and there we’ll be. Here’s how to join us on Discord

    • Head over to Discord and download the app or proceed to use it in your browser. Then click or enter this link to join our server: https://discord.gg/fRBx7ezRF7

    • Once in there, you’ll see the familiar compass-rose icon that indicates our community. On the left you’ll find a list of information (a welcome note, community rules, etc.), a list of text channels (for discussion), and a list of voice channels (where you and everyone else in the community can initiate or join voice or video calls whenever you want).

What I’m making: Still a Pi Shawl and still loving it.

What I’m watching: The Billie Eilish documentary. Heh.

What I’m reading: I read Special Interests, by Emma Barry, and it was alright. I’ve just started Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson, at the urging of my husband. The kid and I are still enjoying the quiet pace of the third Anne book: Anne of the Island.

What are you enjoying (or hating) reading these days? Head over to the book discussion thread!