Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mumble

Yesterday I headed out to a nearby town to eat at Subway. Got there, ordered a foot-long Italian BMT, and the young lady working behind the counter asked me, "Kah'chiss?"

She asked me, "Kah'chiss?"

I said excuse me, and she repeated herself, this time more clearly: "What kind of cheese?"

Things went fine again until we got to the various veggie toppings. She asked me, "Works?" This I could decipher: she was asking me if I wanted the works. I said I'd have everything except onions and peppers.

She said, "N'urrrh?"

I had to ask her two or three times to repeat this before it became disambiguated as, "And cucumbers?" Oh, of course, silly me— "urrrh" is the obvious collapsed enunciation of "cucumbers"!

But they were almost out of cucumber slices, so she excused herself by saying, "Beh'minneh!"

Since she then disappeared somewhere into the back of the shop with the plastic dealie for cucumber slices, I took "Beh'minneh!" to mean, "Back in a minute!"

Another gal behind the counter took advantage of this lull to ring me up at the cash register. Of course, with the requisite, "Would you like to get the meal with that?" and "Would you like to super-size your soft drink with that for an additional twenty cents?" Already knowing a free way to supersize a drink— just don't use as much ice— I declined that one.

Now the mumbler returned from out back, with a plastic dealie full of cucumber slices. She asked me, "Sauce?"

I asked for mustard, and she said, "Spicy'en?"

I couldn't figure this one out, so I got her to repeat it a couple of times until it became clear that this was her abbreviation for "Spicy or honey mustard?" Ah, I see, name one of the alternatives and leave the customer to infer the rest...

So I said spicy mustard. And she then asked me, "Cherryin' oop?"

You heard that right: "Cherryin' oop?"

I had to ask her to repeat this at least twice before I realized she was asking me, "Did she already ring you up?"

Oh, right. I mean, "Cherryin' oop?" is the obvious and natural compression of "Did she already ring you up?" You know, "Did she already ring you up?"

We were now entering the territory of lossy data compression.

I fled to a table, and sat there eating my sandwich as I listened to puzzled customers in line bombarding this gal with, "What? What? What?"

I can testify that she was a native speaker of English, she had no speech defect, and she seemed to be somewhere within the normal range of intelligence. I think she had simply gotten into such a rut in her work, repeating the same phrases over and over again all day long, that these phrases had somehow worn down into half-hearted attempts at a vocalization, never use six syllables when you can squeak by with one.

Only thing that really worries me is whether this represents a trend among young people. I mean, I've gotten used to upspeak. I've adjusted gradually to tattoos and body piercing. I've adjusted even to those colored gummy-rubber bracelets which I've seen worn by otherwise grown twenty-somethings. But if we are now entering into an era of LZW speech compression, or the spoken equivalent of the chat room's "thk u ppl 4 ur help l8r peace out"...

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2 Comments:

Blogger Dr Convolution said...

Damn I hate it when that happens.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005 7:59:00 AM  
Anonymous urthshu said...

s'jeet? h'wasit?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005 8:52:00 AM  

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