Save your breath, Terry

During every Fresh Air interview the host, usually Terry Gross, takes several breaks to make room for underwriting announcements, local station remarks, or filler music. At the end of each break (sometimes, I think, before the breaks as well) Terry says, “If you’re just joining us, my guest is…” I could quibble with her use of what Mark Liberman says is a “felicity condition,” but in general I think it’s perfectly OK to sprinkle your conversation with these constructions. What I find disturbing is the fact that she says it so many times a day.

Think about it: Terry has had this hosting gig for more than 40 years. Let’s say that she’s done four interviews per week for 50 weeks per year. That’s 8,000 interviews (Wikipedia just says she’s done “thousands”). It takes about two seconds to say, “If you’re just joining us…” If she says it, on average, three times per interview (a conservative estimate), that’s 48,000 seconds of her life, and ours, that she has frittered away in felicity. That’s more than thirteen hours of nonstop “If you’re just joining us…” multiplied by millions of listeners. And that’s not counting the interviews by her stand-ins, whom she has trained to use this same formula.

Think of what each of us could have accomplished in those extra thirteen hours. That’s a whole workday plus breakfast, lunch, dinner, a movie, writing a blog entry, and playing with the cats.

Life is too damn short to waste words. Whether we’re just joining you or not, Terry, you have the same guest. It would be cool if you could somehow engineer the show to have different guests for different levels of audience loyalty, but the technology isn’t there yet.

And don’t get me started on the thousands of talk-show callers every day whose first words are “Thank you for taking my call” or some other time-wasting banality. That’s at least three seconds when the caller or someone less fatuous could have been enlightening us on the topic at hand.

Then there’s the whole how-are-you-fine-thanks-and-you ritual that everyone is forced to participate in, in some permutation, dozens of times a day in every society on earth. Really, can’t we all just get to the point? If you must be felicitous, a simple “hello” will do, or better still, “hi.” Just don’t make it conditional.


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