The Right Words at the Right Time

by Kieran Healy on March 2, 2006

Listening to the radio on an airport shuttle last night—some CBS news station, I think—I heard the presenter interview a correspondent about the new videos and transcripts of the White House’s response to Hurricane Katrina. At one point she asked whether this would make any difference to President Bush, or whether it was all “just water under the bridge.” To be fair, she realized just before she said this that it might not sound quite right, but was trapped by the need to maintain the flow of talk. So she could only manage “I hate to use what may sound like an inappropriate metaphor, but …” by way of rescuing the situation. A little later she said it again, this time without comment. (It would have been better if she’d asked whether this controversy was now all blown over or a wash for the President, or something.)

This was a very mild version of the situations Erving Goffman analyzes in “Radio Talk”, an essay from his book Forms of Talk. The CBS announcer was unusual in that she flagged the problem with what she was saying. More often, as Goffman documents, the announcer ploughs on (often in deadly serious manner, to prevent the flow of talk from breaking down into giggles), as if daring the listener to think anything inappropriate has been said. Thus, “She’ll be performing selections from Bach’s Well-Tempered Caviar”, or “”Good evening, this is the Canadian Broad Corping Castration” are passed over in silence. It’s better to push on, as efforts to save the interaction may end up doing even more damage, as in “Tonight I am going to consider the films of Alfred Hitchcack … cock! CACK!”

{ 12 comments }

1

Matt 03.02.06 at 8:53 am

I swear to God that I once heard a live between-programs station ID announcement on NBC refer to the ‘National Bullcasting Corporation’.

2

Espen 03.02.06 at 9:11 am

..not to mention the classic announcement (in the limo rollup to the Oscar ceremony) “Mr. Alfred Hitchcar’s Cock!” (as related in David Niven’s excellent authobiography “The Moon’s a Balloon”

3

Tad Brennan 03.02.06 at 10:27 am

Talking of a very respectable authour, he told us a curious circumstance in his life, which was, that he had married a printer’s devil. REYNOLDS. ‘A printer’s devil, Sir! Why, I thought a printer’s devil was a creature with a black face and in rags.’ JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir. But I suppose, he had her face washed, and put clean clothes on her. (Then looking very serious, and very earnest.) And she did not disgrace him; the woman had a bottom of good sense.’ The word bottom thus introduced, was so ludicrous when contrasted with his gravity, that most of us could not forbear tittering and laughing; though I recollect that the Bishop of Killaloe kept his countenance with perfect steadiness, while Miss Hannah More slyly hid her face behind a lady’s back who sat on the same settee with her. His pride could not bear that any expression of his should excite ridicule, when he did not intend it; he therefore resolved to assume and exercise despotick power, glanced sternly around, and called out in a strong tone, ‘Where’s the merriment?’ Then collecting himself, and looking aweful, to make us feel how he could impose restraint, and as it were searching his mind for a still more ludicrous word, he slowly pronounced, ‘I say the WOMAN was FUNDAMENTALLY sensible;’ as if he had said, hear this now, and laugh if you dare. We all sat composed as at a funeral.

Boswell, natch.

4

David Margolies 03.02.06 at 11:07 am

Surely ‘water over the dam’ would have been more appropriate.

5

Matthew 03.02.06 at 1:04 pm

Our former provincial finance minister in British Columbia., Christy Clark, once gave a live press conference to talk about upcoming TAX CUTS the government was planning. She added an N in CUTS, in about the worst place you can imagine. It was so absurd and inappropriate that she and the reporters burst out laughing. No way to just let that one slip by.

6

derek 03.02.06 at 1:59 pm

Any thread about radio bloopers is incomplete without cricket commentator Brian “Johnners” Johnston’s famous, “Good Afternoon, as you join us here at Lord’s Cricket Ground, the bowler is Holding, the batsman’s Willey…”

7

Dave M 03.02.06 at 2:28 pm

More along the lines of “water under the bridge,” I believe the embattled Mr. Brown complained to Brian Williams on NBC the other day that he had been “hung out to dry”- like that was a bad thing.

8

pdf23ds 03.02.06 at 3:55 pm

I hate to be pointing out the obvious, but… you *did* mean to be sarcastic with this remark, didn’t you?

(It would have been better if she’d asked whether this controversy was now all blown over or a wash for the President, or something.)

9

mollymooly 03.02.06 at 6:52 pm

Peter Collins on the RTE sports news: “Steffi Graf beat Gabriella Sabatini in straight sex…um straight sets”. They didn’t show any of the on-court action though.

10

bad Jim 03.03.06 at 5:48 am

Wednesday night the local classical station played Vadim Salmanov’s Symphony No. 2. It’s a program piece, and the second movement is titled “The Call of Nature”. The host had a brief bit of fun with that.

11

Matt 03.03.06 at 8:12 am

I seem to remember a Today programme interview where Jim Naughtie was interviewing a Zimbabwean government minister and used the phrase “two blacks don’t make a white” without really thinking about the connotations.

12

JohnLopresti 03.04.06 at 9:39 pm

In the spirit of Kieran’s jet lag, last week in a concomitant consciousness review of its own programming for the preceding week, a National Public Radio magazine announcer was narrating highlights and out-takes from that week’s programs, among them, this excerpt from the very overly-produced On The Media, Brooke Gladstone is reading a brief announcement advertising The Prarie Home Companion, naming its guests. On the Media is a dual announcer program; Brooke’s co-announcer is the quick-witted Bob Garfield.
So, Brooke is reading the plug for the Kiellor program, she says, tune in to a ‘Hairy Pr…a Hairy pr..’; Bob’s voice is heard to interrupt, pouncing astutely as clearly this is going to be an out-take. Garfield’s prods: Go ahead and say it Brooke, say it: “Hairy Prone Companion”.
Brooke: ‘Bob, if you don’t shut up I am going to have your microphone turned off.’
Fade to blank.

Comments on this entry are closed.