One of my biggest pet peeves: people who can’t hold up their end of a conversation.
Oh, I’m not saying that every single human being is obligated to bring jaw-dropping factoids, whimsical quips and provocative perspectives to every mundane conversation.
But listeners could at least honor speakers with something more interactive than banal “filler” material like “Uh huh,” “Well, I’ll be!” and “How do ya like that?”
If you reveal, “I lost my wallet on vacation, but a former U.S. president volunteered to pay for my meal,” people with an adequate number of neurons should have a few logical FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS, not “I guess sometimes things happen that way.”
“Really?” grates on my nerves. If I announce, “A cop just gave me a citation because I had a defective brake light,” don’t blurt out, “Really?” (“Okay — a cop METAPHORICALLY gave me a citation because I had a defective brake light. The new police chief had a double major of Law Enforcement and English, so the siren has been replaced by an officer sitting on the squad car reciting SONNETS…”)
When I get fired up about a topic, I want my audience to share the similar life experiences that help them empathize with me. A colloquial “I hear ya” doesn’t cut it. (“You hear me? Good! The auditory portion of the exam is concluded. Now turn your head and COUGH, Mr. Personality!”)
If I bring you a reasonably plausible icebreaker (like “I finally changed chiropractors”), let the exchange follow a logical progression. I don’t need to hear “No kidding?” (“Yes, I’m kidding you. It’s all a practice run for perpetrating a hoax on Col. Klink and Sgt. Schultz and helping those French resistance fighters escape from Stalag 13! Remember: loose lips sink ships!”)
Don’t think you can impress me by interjecting, “Don’t that beat all!” (“Don’t it beat all? Well, the Angel of Death with a royal flush would probably come closer to beating all, but we’re here to talk about anti-vaxxers instead of theology…”)
Poor conversationalists suck all the joy out of good news. If I announce receiving a 50-cent raise, I want to hear, “You deserve it, for your hard work on that big project” or “Hey, maybe we can afford that road trip now.” It just falls with a thud when I get a response of “Huh! Is that right?” (“Is it right? Well, it’s TRUE. As to whether it’s RIGHT, now you’ve got me questioning everything. I WAS going to thank my boss, but now I’ll just bulldoze the place down and give the land back to the Native Americans.”)
Apparently, some conversations invite the old-timey exclamation “Well, did you ever!” (Picture a matronly Southern lady like Aunt Bee.) Example: You tell a friend that, according to “Discover” magazine, some quantum physicists think humans are on the verge of achieving time travel. “Well, did you ever!” (“Me? Obviously not. Because if I had, I’d be off visiting Napoleon or Marie Curie instead of tolerating this conversation.”)
Finally, courts have ruled that “Imagine that!” constitutes fighting words. If I tell you, “I’ve cut my fingertip off with a skill saw,” don’t say, “Imagine that!” (“I don’t have to IMAGINE it, you chowderhead! It’s right here in this paper napkin! Get me to the emergency room! And don’t stop for the police — even if they’re firing allegories at us!”)