Linguist, lexicographer, radio host, public speaker


Listening to the radio, I hear the crowds cheering at election primary rallies. They sound fake. College-aged women yelling “wooooo” and the ball-cap hatted undergrad men yelling individually in imitation of the roar they perceive when watching television. There is no difference between the crowd noise, no matter the politician, no matter the location, or the day, or the rally. They are the same. The noises are forced, emitted by cookie-cutter cardboard cutouts. In-authentic, un-genuine. As well as boring. A crowd of politicians in waiting. A group of incompletely educated upper middle class youth bused in to spread their willful ignorance of details via the content-less message of hooting and hawing and hollering. These are the same people who, when in a group about to be photographed, perhaps at a formal dance, or fraternity party, or on the beach at Padre Island, lean in together toward what they perceive as the center of the frame. They are conscious of the end result. They have a distorted idea of what is necessary to be properly perceived on film. A distorted idea of how their cheering sounds to the microphones. Naturally, there is plenty of room in the frame. They need not lean in. Were these arena-sized crowds, individual voices would disappear into the throng. They do not. They are isolated, and so their failures are revealed. The shouts are unsustained. They lack spontaneity, do not respond to the text, do not respond to context. Were their cries original, a shouted slogan, a personal appeal to the stumper at the podium, of the moment, there would be something more authentic. Instead, there is lock-step chanting, started by organizers on the sidelines, who are concerned with forcing the noise of 577 people to resemble the noise of 1077 people. Crowds do not yell at the right points, perhaps because they are uninspired. Their shouts are perfunctory, the sole goal to give themselves and onlookers the impression of high volume, a rising river of support, an unstoppable candidate. Candidates do not know how to deal with the crowd noise. They talk over it. Or they stumble, stop. They, too, are aware of the microphones. They perceive the crowd noise drowns their small voices. No projection, no confidence in the mix. They want silence, but they want cheers. They are poor orchestral conductors. The best speeches I have heard have a man who pauses at the natural pauses in his speech. He has designed the speech in such a way as to cue applause, cue cheers, cue the stomping and sign-waving. It is not written on his script. It need not be. If there is no pause in his speech, he does not stop. His crowd goes mad because they are drawn to it.

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Grant Barrett