Monday, September 3, 2012

Interesting Language, Or The power of shtick

Jan and I have been off gallivanting--this time to the Boston area. We spent a day in Salem (including visiting the wonderful Peabody-Essex museum) and took the trolley tour. The lady who was doing the tour was new did not appreciate the power of shtick.

Successful presenters, no matter how "off the cuff" they appear to be are never making it all up as the go along. That's because, when you're making stuff up as go along, you often make mistakes--reach for one word and get another, for instance. To avoid that, presenters develop "shtick": blocks of material that can be shoved in almost anywhere. Shtick is material that you've rehearsed/practiced but that isn't tied to any specific point. Presenters are so familiar with their shtick that they can deliver it flawlessly (and even ring variations on it) without giving it their full attention--freeing the presenter's mind up to do other things: assess the audience and figure out what to say next, for instance.

Our guide didn't have any shtick and it left her open to making multiple mistakes.

Guides, for instance, have points of interest (POI) to talk about. However, between those points of interest, guides don't want to have any 'dead air' (to borrow a radio analogy) so they insert shtick that isn't tied to any specific POI. Because our guide didn't have any shtick, between points of interest she was reduced to random and content-free exhortations to appreciate Salem because it had so much history. And, since she was making it up as she went along, she ended up providing examples of that history like "Nathaniel Hawthorne and many famous historians"(she meant "historical personages"). There was a baby on the trolley and our guide extemporized to let us know that "We're in the presence of the youngest person on the tour"--well, yes. But isn't that always true? Actually, I don't think our guide actually understood how comparatives worked. We were, for instance, told (repeatedly) about "America's first richest man." Of course, as soon as one human being stepped onto the continent, we had "the first richest man" but I don't think that's what she meant.

Even at the POIs, we were getting material that (I assume) she was making up as we went along. The house of seven gables, for instance, had been becoming "more and more decrepit until it was finally going to deteriorate."  At one cemetery, we were assured, "you'll see many famous people." Not only was it unlikely that we'd see those people (their graves, perhaps), the four or five names she read off the sign at the cemetery were unknown to me (interesting definition of famous) and--since she told us nothing about those people--remain unknown to me even now.

And, on several occasions, words failed her altogether. We were told that, for instance, that "the harbour is now utilized for many...things."

As I said, much of Salem was wonderful. The tour was less so.

Reading, or read

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