Monday, March 03, 2008

Is it my turn yet? Where’s my “Roger”, Wilco?

I saw an episode of Law & Order recently (one of the three television series currently running on NBC — they’re so absolutely unique I can’t believe I don’t remember which one – DUHN DUHN) — and a developmentally challenged and incredibly bright character said “The End” every time she finished speaking, whether in conversation or when providing her testimony. I thought it was really cute. And then I thought it was brilliant.

We don’t have a definitive or graceful way of letting others know when we’ve actually finished our thought. In the world of electronic communication, we have different ways to inform each other when we’re done. With two-way radios or walkie-talkies, we can use “Roger” and “Wilco”. I was curious of the origination so I looked it up on Wikipedia. The letter R was used in Morse Code as shorthand for “received”, which evolved to “Roger” in radio. “Wilco” was short for “will comply”, as in “will comply with your orders, Captain Stillman.”

You also have “Over” and “Out” - over means “The transmission is complete and I turn the channel back over to you.” Out means “The transmission is complete and I am outta here.”

And let’s not forget the brilliant use of both from one of my most favoritest of movies, Airplane:

Roger Murdock: Flight 2-0-9'er, you are cleared for take-off.
Captain Oveur: Roger!
Roger Murdock: Huh?
Tower voice: L.A. departure frequency, 123 point 9'er.
Captain Oveur: Roger!
Roger Murdock: Huh?
Victor Basta: Request vector, over.
Captain Oveur: What?
Tower voice: Flight 2-0-9'er cleared for vector 324.
Roger Murdock: We have clearance, Clarence.
Captain Oveur: Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?
Tower voice: Tower's radio clearance, over!
Captain Oveur: That's Clarence Oveur. Over.
Tower voice: Over.
Captain Oveur: Roger.
Roger Murdock: Huh?
Tower voice: Roger, over!
Roger Murdock: What?
Captain Oveur: Huh?
Victor Basta: Who?

With the telephone we have “Hello” and “Goodbye”, or that really annoying Nextel chirp. Even in Congress they have to yield time to each other. But what do we have in conversation?

Sometimes there are visual cues. If you’re lucky enough to be speaking with an Italian like me, the overuse of hand gestures will tell you when we’re done. Of course, you may not want to risk the interruption since you assume we’re all connected.

Or there are vocal intonations that hint to us you’re winding down. But too many times you just wind back up, or start a new thought entirely. And some people are so determined not to give up the floor, they filibuster like they’re whoring for Big Oil, and have developed some freakish power to both inhale and exhale while speaking so they can go on forever, never actually making their point and have zero intention of shutting the hell up.

If you pause for more than four or five seconds, I assume you’re done and it’s my turn. But I’m wrong too many times and then have to apologize for interrupting you when you were actually silent.

I just wish there was a way for us to let everyone know when we’re done, like a simple “The End” or “Over”. I’ve mentioned Victor Borge's audible punctuation before, which I totally loved, but even that just let you know his sentence was complete, not his actual thought.

Perhaps a Mary Katherine Gallagher curtsy-split-ta-dah at the end of our thoughts would tell everyone we’re through and it’s someone else’s turn to speak. I can only hope.

Seacrest out.

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