In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros


When to Shut Up

There's lots of talk going around but with very little substance. People are beating their gums — their voluble talk having no real bite to it — and flapping their chops — the rapid motion of jowls signifying absolutely nothing.

It seems that most of what passes as serious conversation turns out to be nothing more than patter, meaningless talk. Things started off serious enough, from the Latin pater, short for pater-noster, the Latin designation for the Lord's Prayer, from the first two words of the prayer meaning "Our Father." Over time, however, saying it became second nature, and people began reciting it quickly, mumbling the words without any feeling or thought. Soon the pater became identified with senseless and insincere talk, and patter entered the lexicon with that meaning.

It's a quaint theory, but not everyone agrees. There are some who would argue that the word is simply imitative of the sound of rain pattering on the roof.

Those who are most into patter are said to have the gift of gab (late 18thC.), verbal fluency and the ability to talk persuasively. Originally it was called the gift of the gab, courtesy of the Irish — gab being Gaelic for a "beak" or a "mouth." Contemporaneously "Gift of Gab" also names the rapper in the hip-hop duo Blackalicious.

Yadda-yadda-yadda — the gift that goes on giving. And there's no returning it. Worse yet, it communicates very little. Don't fret; there is a way out. As Tom Lehrer once noted, "If a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up."