Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/380

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366
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

CORRESPONDENCE.



INFIRMITIES OF SPEECH.

To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly:

THE article in the August number of the Monthly upon "Infirmities of Speech" was a stimulant to much curious reflection. A true student of character will see, among the men and women he meets in the parlor, idiosyncrasies of speech and manner that are common to quite a large class of people. Dr. Trousseau's patient was but one of many. The wife of a physician of this city, formerly an inspector of the Board of Health, created much merriment among acquaintances by the singularity of her answers to the simplest questions. Nearly every expression was a comparative one. To a stranger her conversation appeared of the quality of humorous extravagance. Upon one occasion she was asked the condition of a friend who had been a long time sick. "Oh, she's about like the lid of a stove," was the reply. This excited laughter, but was unsatisfactory. "Was she feverish?" "No." "Was she in a chill?" "No, she was just like the lid of a stove, don't you understand?" Her husband explained the expression by saying that the sick friend was exceedingly nervous, and that his wife, in making the comparison, alluded to the dancing of a tea-kettle on a hot stove. From early girlhood she had employed this expression, to the exclusion of the correct one. In their reminiscences, Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke mention a similarity in the speech of George Dyer. With a question, answer, or other observation, he would begin intelligently; after a few words, fill in the space of several others with a series of abd's, as if choking, and, in concluding, would invariably use "Well, sir, but, however." A gentleman of rich culture and high professional eminence has used "and consequently" since he was a boy, whenever he exhausted breath in his rapid speech, was unable to grasp the correct word, or was interrupted. He was, and still is, unconscious of this peculiarity. He will so designate a man, a woman, a piece of furniture, or any object whose proper name is for the time hidden. This habit, as the untutored would denominate it, is so apparent that a stranger would detect it in five minutes.

The ability to always use the best words to give force to an idea is possessed by so few, that the promiscuous gathering of words, if not too idiotic, is charitably passed over without remark.

A young lady, whose company is much solicited for the graces of her mind, undergoes a most piteous embarrassment from the effects of this infirmity. In the early part of the evening her choice of words will be faultless; and she will render a criticism or narrative with an enviable flow. But, later, she becomes nervous, hesitates, studies her words, trips, and then stumbles on to the climax with nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs that darken, instead of illumine, the "point." It is but a few evenings ago that, in speaking of the influence of Hans Christian Andersen's tales, she said: "Now, how few writers are capable of so effectively consolidating the contradictory impulses that arise in a child's mind! No, I mean so effectively con—con—well, mix up will oil." And, when conciliate was mentioned, she said that was the word she desired. If she ventured upon a further observation the infirmity increased, so far as to leave her sentence a hopeless wreck.

Many will say this is a habit, and only becomes an infirmity by being allowed too free scope. Still, the best-educated people are subject to it.

To carelessness is attributed another peculiarity, not of speech, but of action. The physician before alluded to was unable to page his manuscript of stenographic reports of lectures before the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The figure 8 was always uppermost in his mind, and all but the first page would have that numeral in the upper left-hand corner. When arranging the pages for eyelets or tape, he was