December 30, 2016
There is a long list of things I could resolve to do in 2017. After giving it some thought I have concluded that improving my speaking skills takes precedence. I am referring to eliminating extra words when I speak; words and phrases such as you know, I mean, so, at the end of the day, right, okay, ad infinitum. When did these meaningless inserts become ubiquitous in our everyday speech patterns? We hear them in ordinary conversation, and we note their constant presence with broadcast professionals.
Coincidentally as this resolution became an idea, I was reminded of the succinct beauty of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Lincoln delivered his 272 word reflection after sitting through a 2 plus hour speech from then-noted orator Edward Everett. Lincoln paid tribute to the casualties of both the North and the South, and marked the significance of the Gettysburg Battle in our history, without one wasted word. In a convoluted fantasy I began to speculate on what Lincoln’s message would have sounded like if it included the omnipresent verbal tics we have come to expect in English language today. With apologies to Lincoln:
So four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, I mean, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Well now we are engaged in a great civil war you know, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. So we are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. I mean it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, I think, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground okay? The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. Here’s the point. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. Right? At the end of the day, it is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. Well, it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion you know, to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth, you know what I mean?
The function of this exercise is to remind myself to edit my speech as I would edit my writing or my playing. I can make an analogy to my improvisation style, which I believe is economical and devoid of pointless flourishes. Several veteran jazz improvisers acknowledged that it took them decades to determine what not to “say.”