From time to time, I get emails from radio listeners. Occasionally they’re very, very negative. More frequently, they’re complimentary. From time to time, they’re critical, but thoughtful. A couple listeners have written to me about my manner of speach, and I thought I’d share one letter I got this morning, along with my response. I’ve left out the listener’s last name in the interest of anonymity.
I’m a listener from New Jersey who catches you at least twice a month. I’m an old  fuddy duddy retired English and theater teacher who still enjoys new music and entertainment. What often bothers me and gets in the way of your programs is the language usage. For Blu to spout slang and “like” and “y’know” and other street language fillers is easy to forgive. He’s not a public speaker; and the poetry of his raps shows he can use the language. I’m not as forgiving of the documentary film producer/director/writer, but, again, he’s not in the busines of extemporaneous speech. However, my patience runs real thin when the interviewer/emcee uses the same diction as his subjects. Word choice and vocabulary should, of course, be appropriately casual and contemporary, but the diction of the moderator should not sound like a “valley girl.” You demean the generally high quality of your questions, analysis and guests.
Hi Guy —
Thanks for taking the time to write. It’s always nice to hear from listeners, no matter what their age. You’re hardly the only 60-something listening to the show — I think the name throws people off :).
I’m surprised at your critique of my language usage. I don’t know what qualifications to offer to counter it… I did get an 800 out of 800 on the verbal portion of my SATs back in high school, and I believe my mother is still tending a garden of medals from the Junior State of America and the Academic Decathalon. Perhaps those are more the qualifications of a nerd than anything else. I suppose my point is that I make my choices advisedly.
I think the difference is at least in part, generational. I might recommend Stanford linguist Geoff Nunberg’s essay on the subject of “like,” which is featured in one of his books (can’t remember which one), and which he read on Fresh Air a few years ago. Geoff was a guest on The Sound of Young America four or five years
ago, and he was really wonderful.
Ultimately, I think my choices reflect the informal tone of the program. I could certainly be more formal — I’ve had job interviews, too — but the best answers come from guests who are comfortable speaking their minds, and I think an informal environment is more conducive to frankness. It’s certainly more conducive to humor, which is typically the backbone of my show. That said — I still don’t think I sound like a Valley girl. I’m from San Francisco.
In any event, thank you for taking the time to write, and for your kind words about the content of the show. Thanks also for supporting WNYC. Without WNYC’s brave support, I don’t think I’d even be a professional broadcaster. WNYC produces some of the best shows in public radio, like On the Media and Radiolab, as well as some of the best local programming in the country, and I’m very proud to be a part
of it. You should be glad to support their wonderful efforts.
So… what do you think?