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Wednesday: [w] Conversational Style and the Limits of Mundane Patter

Scareodeleria: 02 November 2003
My partner -- not, in general, a webcomics fan beyond Megatokyo and Penny Arcade, so I figure I can basically mock him into the ground here -- first awakened me this (alleged) morning by coming into the room and picking up one of my Scary-Go-Round books. Scare-o-deleria #1, specifically. I don't entirely recall how it came up; it might simply have come out, as remarks do. But he had a complaint.

"No one talks like this," he said. "'Global warm-ification?' Who says that?"
"All you British people do," I offered, regretting accursed boozes. "Obviously John Allison does."
"That's probably an affectation."
"Does it matter? Next, you'll be saying that no one talks like they do in Achewood." (In my defense, I was thinking mostly of Teodor.)
"Well..."

(For the record, the hotly contested household nomenclature for the automobile is "motor car." For the record.)

Not coincidentally, because everything is symbolic before the naproxen kicks in, the morning trawl through Achewood blogs (poor Molly) led to a spot-on review at Ruminator Magazine. This popped out at me:

My own favorite strip features a T-shirt of Roast Beefs that says on one side, Im the Guy Who Sucks, and on the other, Plus I Got Depression. Whats funny about that isnt just the idea of a talking cat advertising his low self-esteem on a T-shirt, but the locution. Who says I got depression? (If theres one thing I know about this world, its that there aint just one guy who sucks.)

Now, I'm sure I've said it myself more than once over the years, but that's not entirely the point. The point is, having seen this, I think I'd be more likely to try and explain any number of mornings this way:

"Why aren't you up yet?"
"I'm the girl who sucks. Plus, I got depression."

Also, this is the shirt I most want to own, more than anything ever in the world.

My friend Keith occasionally describes us folk as "ladies." This, at first, struck me as odd. Nothing in the mirror screams "lady;" I have, in fact, passed as male from behind on several occasions. But Keith has, over the years, absorbed a certain Dumbrella-and-friends sensibility into his speech, and it just works. It's nothing which sticks out unless he makes it do so; it's just there.

I struggle with this criticism a lot. This was one of the difficulties I actually had, getting into Achewood and SGR and -- to a lesser extent -- Diesel Sweeties. And it's something that will come up when I go through my trainwreck comics under stress. It's the thing I picked over for a year or so, deciding just how much I liked Alisin from Fans!. It was a huge sticking point for me with something I was reading recently which should have reflected some personal experience, but fell entirely flat and pat. And, fundamentally, it's the biggest problem I have with my own writing: "Is this natural? Would anyone actually speak this way?"

I do start to wonder if I'm asking the right question here. On the one hand, there's a big box of Gilmore Girls sitting here. It came home with me from America this Christmas because, after about ten days of reruns, it struck me that this was a show full of people who spoke as I spoke; when your accent and delivery are glaring, garish anomalies where you live, that's tons of reassuring. At the same time, there are big boxes of Buffy in the other room; while they sort of speak the Language, it's more that they take the Language and build upon it. Then you sort of draw it back into yourself and make it resonate. Like any good, quotable art/entertainment, really; how many people who aren't me can carry out entire conversations based on that blasted Princess Bride thing? (I can explain whether or not I get along well with certain people by telling other certain people: "They speak 'dude' and 'um' and 'see.'" But I don't get the Princess Bride thing at all. Never have. Sorry. It's not for me.)

My partner and I find ourselves communicating, on occasion, in Penny Arcade references. No one talks like that, either. Or no one did, anyhow.

What is the right question here? 'Cause I'm thinking it's not whether or not that's how people talk -- or how you or yours talk -- so much as whether or not that's how you could see yourself speaking, if the circumstances were appropriate. It's whether you can take on the code. Because, dude, none of this is natural.

Dude.

See.

Now. If you'll excuse me, I have to go kick the ass of Wordpress.

Posted by Wednesday Burns-White at April 2, 2005 6:44 PM

Comments

Comment from: djcoffman posted at April 2, 2005 9:16 PM

What did WORDPRESS ever do to you??

:D

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at April 2, 2005 9:30 PM

One of my kids once told me that my wife and I talk more like the kids in Buffy than real kids do.

On the flip side, rightly or wrongly I don't worry about whether anyone really talks the way my characters do because I write the way I talk. And, I don't recall how exactly how it came up, but one day in February of last year I was complaining or boasting (I forget which) in chat that I talk just like Hawkeye Pierce or Lorelei Gilmore, and one person didn't know what I meant. Then:

[some3rdperson] Is 24 doing another amnesia plot?

[Paul] Maybe they forgot they already did one.

[Paul] Brenda: There! That's exactly what Hawkeye or Lorelei would say!

I guess my point is, if Lorelei Gilmore talks like you, you're not the only nonfictional person who does it.

(I really dislike how the preview window here doesn't show you paragraph breaks. I really hope this post doesn't come out as the massive unrelenting block of text I see at the moment. Well, time to find out:)

Comment from: Wednesday posted at April 2, 2005 9:36 PM

Wordpress sat in front of me and said, "Hi. I am tempting. But you are stupid."

And then it kept doing it in the Dexter voice, from that one episode told by the little kid. "You are stuuuupid. You are stuuuuuuupid. And oh, by the way, you are stuuuuupid."

Yep. I'm strudel.

Comment from: jjacques posted at April 2, 2005 10:04 PM

I think JerkCity has had the most profound effect upon my personal lexicon (HAGALAHGALHGALHAG), but I can credit SGR with my usage of the word "lady" and Achewood with my usage of the phrase "hell of" as well.

Anyone else notice that there seems to be a bit of a backlash against the Homestar Runner-coined "[VERB]'D"? Lord help me, I still use it sometimes. I am a huge nerd.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at April 2, 2005 10:14 PM

Before the Simpsons, nobody ever said "d'oh!" Now I find myself saying it habitually. Which tells me "that which is unnatural can become natural in time."

On the other hand, it is quite unlikely that people will ever get in the habit of saying

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend

The brightest heaven of invention,

A kingdom for a stage, princes to act

And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

... and yet Henry V still kicks righteous ass when it's performed by actors who know what they're doing. Which tells me "that which is unnatural can still kick righteous ass when it's used by people who know what they're doing."

I think dialog in webcomics -- comics in general, really -- is elevated speech in exactly the same way that the prologue of Henry V is: it relies on rhythm and pacing in order for it to be funny or dramatic or poignant or whatever you're going for. The trick isn't to make it sound like something people would say in real life, the trick is to set it up properly so the audience will be willing to let it work.

Comment from: Zaq posted at April 2, 2005 10:24 PM

I recall a specific Calvin and Hobbes strip I saw long ago that has influenced the way I talk... Calvin and Hobbes are discussing the merits of "verbing" words, with the punchline being "verbing weirds language." Pretty much as a direct result of that comic, I verb words frequently. Sometimes nothing else is quite as effective. (Now, if I were some kind of good writer, I would have verbed a word in that last sentence... but you were expecting that, weren't you?) I've been known to noun words on occasion as well, as in " is made out of awesome" or "Stop it! You're getting suck all over my pants!" or "You tried valiently, but now you are fail." Not the most, shall we say, sophisticated examples, but if we're talking about normal conversation anyway...

On a related note, I rarely if ever use the term "lady" or "ladies", but I often use the term "gentlemen" in a context which would not otherwise demand it, most often while addressing an often unruly group of gaming buddies. (With much less frequency do I use the term "good sir" in a similar situation, but that's usually in jest... though a random "comrade" is often used at least seriously as "gentlemen." I don't pretend to understand. I just say it.)

Comment from: Grumblin posted at April 2, 2005 10:35 PM

She does not get the Princess Bride...

Heretic!!! :p

Comment from: Sundre posted at April 2, 2005 10:41 PM

The longest lasting effect of a Simpsons reference would prolly be my tendency to sing the S-M-R-T song to myself after doing something particularly inspired or doorknob-daft.

Also, the best conversation in the world is the good word one. You know, where someone says a rarely-out-loud word like "chagrin" and that sparks a tangent on how all the best words are only in print and other obscure media.

Also, I heart hyphens.

And a last also: how do you make a line break on this thing? My enter key isn't doing the trick. My kingdom for a carriage-return.

Comment from: Sundre posted at April 2, 2005 10:44 PM

Oops. Never mind the line break thing. It seems to have solved itself since last time. I think the preview confuses the poor beastie.

Comment from: miyaa posted at April 2, 2005 10:55 PM

There was an interesting piece from 60 Minutes (of all places) about the language research that went into the movie Clueless. It is very interesting.

The most annoying thing about the internet age is hearing people say "LOL" in public. I so want to stab them in the eye. And saying, "ROTFLOL?" Is that considered justifible homicide?

Comment from: nothings posted at April 2, 2005 11:37 PM

(It's not for me.) My partner and I find ourselves communicating, on occasion, in Penny Arcade references.

Teehee.

Comment from: Darth Paradox posted at April 2, 2005 11:45 PM

My chemistry lab partner (/good friend) and I talked like that (ification, etc) all the time, largely to amuse ourselves and our rather attractive benchmates during an hour of otherwise mundane chemical tasks.

I do enjoy a lot of the dialogue styles employed in webcomics, though. I enjoy the "Dumbrella-and-friends" (as you put it) type of banter and absurdity, I enjoy the peculiar yet effective descriptive power of Tycho's writing, etc. The latter has, in fact, drawn me to read newsposts about topics in which I have minimal to no interest beyond that necessary to comprehend the day's comic - like a young child consuming candy, providing me with a sweet, sugary taste, yet filled with so-called "empty calories" and ultimately leaving me with no sustenance but still having a sufficiently delectable flavor to draw me back again and again.

On that topic, a friend of mine pointed out that the dialogue in the last frame of my latest comic was very much like "something out of a convention meet-up" - not just the conversational tone we tend to have, but particularly the sort that we tend to have at conventions, surrounded by people of similar mindsets. There is something about the convention atmosphere itself that impels people to affect that sort of dialogue (and that causes it to be well received) - and there is something about the webcomics community (and audience) that makes this sort of dialogue seem to fit so well.

So... I don't know what the question is, but the answer's probably "Yes". (Unless you form the question as the negation of the actual question, in which case it's "No". Or whatever.)

Comment from: Brandon E. posted at April 3, 2005 1:28 AM

Odd that that is his complaint. The bizzaare dialogue style is a prime reason I love Achewood, Scary Go Round, and Wigu (in fact goats is the only dumbrella comic who's dialogue doesn't strike me as particularly odd). I can't say why I like it, or what it is. It just adds to the charm and humor of the strip.

Me and my friends, in attempts to sound rediculous, and mock those who say LOL have gone so far as to attempt to pronounce ROTFLMAOOL (Rot-full-maa-ol). I also am in the habit of shouting "I R TEH WINLA" as a victory cry. Not sure why, I blame the internet.

Comment from: DarkStar posted at April 3, 2005 1:31 AM

I think that everyone bends language. Or at least from an English language perspective. English (at least) is a very flexible system. We can "verb" words to give them undue action or we can "noun" words to create all sorts of new physical presences that shouldn't exist in a physical world at all. We can combine words and ad suffixes to words. Of course, all of this is much easier to do when actually speaking. I continually make up new words, based on existing words, to simply fill up gaps in random conversations. (Of course, specific examples escape me now). I add stupid prefixes and suffixes to things. I do this, because I think they sound neat.

When I hear it on TV I usually congradulate the writes for actually paying attention to what has become a modern mode of speech. Everyone is doing it. In fact, everyone has always done it. If people hadn't been doing this for ages, slang would not exist. Many words would not exist (thank the Bard!). Language itself would have a whole new face.

The fact is that language changes over time. The way we think about words and phrases shifts. Many of the "oddities" in speech that we find ourselves using (and yes, a lot of people use them) are just a newer form of slang. Some may be adopted and (eventually) some may pass from the everyday into the retro. New ways of speaking/talking/writing/texting/telepathing will develop to fill new needs for communication. Eventually we will look back at these oddities of speech with fondness; perhaps we will remember when it was new.

-D

Comment from: the_iron_troll posted at April 3, 2005 1:44 AM

Hmm, a new webcomic fashioned by a fellow verbosely-inclined lover of the newspost stylings of Tycho. I believe my list can sustain another member. :)

There really is something delightful about employing some of the less-frequently-accessed portions of one's vocabulary. They have an unfortunate tendency to fall the wayside when I attempt to respond to a waiting audience. My processing power is, sadly, insufficient. My writing rarely resembles my speach, to be perfectly frank. I write more how I wish I could speak. 'Verbing' and 'nouning', however, are well within my clock's capacity, and my usage of them quite awesomes me.

Wednesday, I must heartily thank you for 'it's not for me'. I've been trying to think of reasons for my dislike of the Princess Bride (and others) that won't offend most of my friends, and that might just do it. And hey, it lets me slip in a Penny Arcade quote, which is pleasing.

And, as you can see, I as well heart hyphens.

Comment from: Scarybug posted at April 3, 2005 4:01 AM

I love strange dialogue. Futurama's jokes sometimes revolved around a character saying a sentence in a strange way, or replying to a statement that they expected, but was never said. i.e.

Bender: Who goes there?

Fry: Bender, It's me!

Bender: Fry who?

Farnsworth: Plus, Fry, you've got that brain thing.

Fry: I already did!

Also, I recently wrote an essay about communicating with a partner in references

http://www.livejournal.com/~scarybug/53686.html

for any interested

Comment from: kirabug posted at April 3, 2005 11:04 AM

My biggest writing influence continues to be As the Apple Turns, a mac-based newsblogjournalrumor site which introduced me to [noun]-y goodness. This post holds much webcomic-y goodness. (Plus, you've gotta love an author who peppers his posts with phrases like "we wouldn't necessarily trust CompUSA any farther than we could comfortably spit a rat").

Actually, when I first started reading Wigu, the writing style seriously threw me off. Same with Diesel Sweeties. But they're both so damn funny I kept reading anyway, and now they're permanently on the list, even though there are days when I have no idea what the hell they're talking about.

Comment from: Nick Simmonds posted at April 3, 2005 11:35 AM

Personally, I've said, "your star burns! I require frozen treats!", or essentially that, on more than one occasion before it popped up on PA.

Then again, I've often met people after communicating with them online and heard, "Wait, you really talk like that?"

Comment from: Kludge posted at April 3, 2005 12:10 PM

I say "Ladies" when "Ladies" needs to be said.



- Keith

Comment from: Wednesday posted at April 3, 2005 12:23 PM

Yeah, but you also say it about me.

Comment from: Kris@WLP posted at April 3, 2005 12:49 PM

Er... -I- got depression.

For that matter, using "got" (I acquired) as "got" (I currently possess) is common dialect here.

I don't see what's so weird.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at April 3, 2005 1:29 PM

In and of itself, it doesn't look like it should be unusual, but I think "I got [bla]" tends to show up more for stuff like, say, a cold, or chicken pox. Depression seems to be more of an "I have" thing, or possibly an "I am" thing.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at April 3, 2005 1:29 PM

("Oh, wow. I got depression. I -am- Metaluna.")

Comment from: miyaa posted at April 3, 2005 5:24 PM

A couple of friends of mine are really into quoting movies verbatim. They've befriended an autistic child who can remember every line of any movie he seen (well, that and Simpson episodes), and they've communicated with him just through going through entire movie script dialogues or references. It is both fascinating and eerie. In fact, it's sometimes down-right creepy.

Last time I saw him, the kid discovered the joys of Family Guy. I swear my friends are corrupting him.

Comment from: gwalla posted at April 3, 2005 5:24 PM

Incidentally, Achewood's "hell of" comes from Northern Californian slang. When I went to college in So Cal, people would look at me funny if I said something was "hella cool" or somesuch. One guy thought it was because I listened to a lot of Too Short albums, until he realized Too Short is from Oakland.

Comment from: Vorn posted at April 3, 2005 6:56 PM

I saw an article in that bastion of journalistic integrity the New York Post that had "OMG" in 100 point type in the headline. It's a sign of the apocalypse I tell you.

Vorn

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at April 4, 2005 7:31 AM

A couple of friends of mine are really into quoting movies verbatim. They've befriended an autistic child who can remember every line of any movie he seen (well, that and Simpson episodes), and they've communicated with him just through going through entire movie script dialogues or references. It is both fascinating and eerie. In fact, it's sometimes down-right creepy.

Kadir beneath Mo Moteh? Sokath, his eyes uncovered!

Comment from: SK posted at April 4, 2005 6:02 PM

Great dialogue does not reflect how people really talk, but how people wish they could talk.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at April 5, 2005 3:06 AM

Great dialogue does not reflect how people really talk, but how people wish they could talk.

True, dat.

It's the difference between Aaron Sorkin dialogue and 1940's/50's Dragnet dialogue (not 60's, which became camp). Sorkin writes what we wish we could say. Dragnet actually was what we would say, right down to the moderate monotone.

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