It’s an odd problem, I admit it, but it’s been with me all my life. I have a decent vocabulary but I can’t pronounce about three quarters of the words I know. Some are much harder than others. Way back in the 80’s I bought a woman some flowers, just because I thought she might like them, and she got mad at me. We had been dating for a while and she told me that if I had bought her flowers without a reason I had done something wrong she was about to hear about or I was being manipulative. This argument broke out in the middle of dinner and I told her, “If you aren’t walking home, get in the car” and she said, “I’m not finished” and I said, “We are” and we took it into the parking lot.
The real problem began when I told her I was not being ma-nip, ma-niploo-a, I wasn’t trying to manipulate her.
“Manipulative” she said as if she were daring me to repeat it.
“Moo-not-a-trieme” I said and I realized she was a witch and had cursed my tongue.
“Manipulative” she said again, with a gleam in her eye, and I knew at that point she had taken over the argument and was now enjoying my obvious inability to say a fairly common word.
I took a deep breath, looked her dead in the eye and said, “I-am-not-being-ma-nip-you-live-a-tive” and she cracked up laughing. She laughed all the way to her place and even though this was one of those we’re-done events she couldn’t control a very serious case of the giggles.
The more stress I’m under the less likely I am to be able to speak any known human language that involves words consisting of more than two syllables. I actually speak better after a few beers because I sound drunk. When I’m sober I sound like an illiterate serf trying to explain quantum mechanics to a group of rabid five year olds on meth in an echo chamber.
Dinosaur names? Yeah, right. Scientific names for snakes? Uh-huh, keep dreaming. The names of famous composers not named Smith? It sounds like I’m chewing super glue and hair balls. I dated a woman with Polish ancestry and she could speak seven languages fluently. She and I sat together and tried to get me to pronounce her last name. I couldn’t get close. It was like trying to juggle water.
And as bad as it sounds it gets even worse as it goes along. I may be able to limp along and pronounce some words that have more than six letters in them, but if someone asks me to repeat a word I just nailed, flawlessly… I can’t. No, really, I can’t. I once used the word “Conflagration” in a sentence and someone said, “What?” And suddenly conflagration, one of my favorite words of all time, became an alien tongue twister that required a second mouth to say properly. And because stress makes it worse I was soon down to the “See Spot run! Run, Spot, run” level of communication.
I once fumbled the word “Stenographic” and it sounded like I was trying to invent a word that involved canned fire and illicit sex with a secretary. The three people I was speaking to, well, they began looking at me as if they knew what I was trying to say and hoped I would say it soon, but instead I began to sound like Dracula with a fishbone caught between two fangs, “Bluh! Bluh bluh!”
One of the true horrors in life is knowing what word is perfect in a sentence and a thought, knowing how to say and use that word to great effect, and suddenly my mouth freezes up as if there are no words left. “I’m sorry, you’ve spoken aloud twelve words today without making a complete idiot of yourself. That exceeds your allowable quota by ten words.” In Basic Training I tried to ask what purpose the epaulets on our field jackets served. I managed to get out the first two or three words, and it sounded like English, but then the connection between my brain and mouth became severed. Had there been a King Cobra in my mouth I wouldn’t have been able to spit the damn thing out. The Drill Instructor looked at me as if I was about to have some sort of thrashing seizure. Ah, but he was a simple man; there was no ailment that push-ups could not cure.
If you’re a woman and you’re curious about my level of attraction I have for you (yes, I realize this is a very rare occurrence, please don’t interrupt) then just take notice of how eloquent I happen not to be. If three and four syllable words are causing me to stumble linguistically, (ask me to say that one) then you can assume I’m serious. If I start talking about a book I read and can’t repeat the title without two shots of tequila and a valium I may be in love.
A few weeks ago I had to sit in a room with four attorneys and give a deposition on something that happened five years ago. Given enough time to think about it, and an eyewitness, and some notes I’ve taken, I might be able to tell you what I had for lunch yesterday. However, in a time when my ever present inability to communicate with human beings could have been more disastrous than ever before, I managed to say, out loud and quite clearly, “Memory is both malleable and fallacious in the very best of times and this isn’t the time to rely on any device that fails to locate a pair of eyeglasses perched upon my head.” And I think that scored a lot of points. I kept my answers down to “Yes” or “No” or most honestly, “I do not remember”.
Maybe there is a lesson in that for me. Maybe if I just said a whole lot less I would say it a whole lot better.