Speaker after speaker at the Democratic convention would preface their sundry statements with “You know what?” or “Do you know what?” It seemed as if Dennis Kucinich, in particular, couldn’t say anything without prefacing it with this phrase. I felt I was listening to a 12-year-old when he spoke. Even Obama managed to ask “You know what?” in his presentation. That means it was actually written for him and put on the teleprompter.
When my kids use the phrase “You know what?” I stop them in their tracks and say, “Is that a question you want me to answer? If not, then why are you asking it?” The habit soon disappears.
What kind of a question is ‘Do I know what?’ anyway? Do I know what what?
Asking an audience a rhetorical question such as “Do you know what?” is one step up from an 8-year-olds constant preface “Guess what?” or the more compelling “Guess what, Dad?” Again, I would stop my kids and ask them if they actually wanted me to answer. “Am I supposed to guess?” Only my daughter countered this strategy with the retort, “Yes, you are supposed to guess. So guess.” She still stopped using the phrase despite this ruse.
In the case of the Democratic speech makers, constantly repeating “Do you know what?” represents a patronizing, but subtle, insult.
What it actually means is “Do you know what? Never mind, don’t answer since I’m only asking it because I know you have no clue. So I am going to tell you what you stupidly do not know.”
Now I’m not saying that these folks necessarily know they are insulting the audience with this phrase. I suspect that most don’t even know they are using this phrase. But they are — and it represents an internalized arrogance that is repugnant.
That said, it is a filler phrase — padding — to keep your mouth moving. But personally I consider it as bad as saying “you know” throughout a conversation. This “you know” usage has been perfected by illiterate athletes. The worst of this bunch have adopted the idiotic “you know what I’m sayin.”
When I see one of these people jabbering away on TV about their boxing match, for example, repeating “you know what I’m sayin’?” I just wish the announcer would shout back “Yes! I know what you are saying. Why do you constantly ask me that?”
When the phrase “you know what?” is used in the schoolyard, it might well indicate insecurity or the need to fill dead air with jabbering in an effort to sound intelligent. But the same is not true when used in a formal speech. It’s used as a preface to some important fact I need to supposedly know. And it separates the speaker from the listener in some inexplicable way. While not as exclusionary a phrase such as “You people” when used to address a group that you are condemning by an exclusionary reference, it seems to come close.
If you listen carefully you’ll find that the Democrats tend to say “You know what” more so than the Republicans, who will tend to use the more inclusionary “As you know”. This is still not to my personal liking since it reeks of salesmanship rather than conversation. I’m not a big fan of being told what I know or what I agree with.
But there are even worse things than irritating phrases used incessantly.
Obama, when not reciting a prepared address, has an even more annoying personal speech characteristic. Um, let me, um, think, um, as to what that, um, might be.
While constantly using “um” or ‘uh” during normal conversation Obama appears to be thoughtful to the folks that want to interpret near-stuttering into great intellectualism and thoughtfulness rather than the more likely slow-thinking or confusion. As an amateur linguist pointed out to me, the constant prefacing of sentences with “Um” is actually a mechanism of arrogance, as it signals the listener to stop everything while the person using “Um” has time to himself or herself to think about a response in a Kingly manner. In other words, the person is not going to actually interact with you but is going to stop the conversation and then make a proclamation.
I didn’t think much of this armchair analysis until I started to listen to Obama in what very few interview situations he has done. The level of interaction seems very stiff, distant and formal. And, like his oration, it is very old-fashioned and non-conversational. All that is missing from some of these chats — which are horribly peppered with “um” and “uh” — is the sharp-dressed lawyer sitting next to Obama and whispering into his ear every so often.
This sort of detached approach seems to have a definite appeal to the Democrat base who, to a man, adore Obama. Smitten is probably the word for it. By their own language they see Obama as a star in their midst, and they will probably think less of him if he actually comes back down to earth and acts and talks like a normal person.
I’m guessing that this detached style in itself creates the aura. Obama, like a detached celebrity with an entourage, is always “on” so we’ll never get to see what he is really like. Perhaps the public is tired of knowing what our leaders are really like and would rather have a king running the place. As long as he is a benevolent king, of course.
So listen more carefully for the overtones of monarchy in this election. One sided conversations, rhetorical questions, proclamations and large formal gatherings. Coronations usually get a big crowd too.
See the peasants in tears as they listen to their great ruler. Why are they crying? What did he say?
The Republicans strategists got it only partially right when they called Obama a world famous celebrity and equated him with Britney Spears. I think equating him with Queen Elizabeth or even Zeus might be more like it.