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Jim Walker: Some very weird ways with words

Don't Take Me Seriously

Posted: April 6, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 6, 2012 1:55 a.m.

It’s been a very long time since someone invaded my personal space so closely during a conversation that they “got in my face.”

And, while this could be a personal-hygiene problem on my part, my conclusion is that there is simply much less of this nose-rubbing going on in society in general these days.

I attribute this to the current popularity of the head-butt as a discussion stopper. I mean, these days, in the movies, if someone “faces-up,” they often get their nose broken by a forehead. And the fear of this obviously carries over into the real world.

It’s a good thing.

While maintaining personal space is one of the hallmarks of good conversational etiquette these days, there are many others. And if you study up on the meanings of arm movements, leg position, eye contact and, you know, eyebrow-plucking, you will always
know where your conversational opponent is coming from — maybe even before he does.

But there are two conversational “styles” that I encounter every great now and then that many days of googling have not explained.

And if you are afflicted with either of these, please accept my condolences, and my apologies for bringing them up. But I have to bring them up because, people, you are freaking me out!

I’m talking about mouth movers and circling talkers.

Now the former, mouth movers, I did find a few opinions on, though no clinical studies and such. But the latter, circling talkers, it would seem I am the only one in the world to have encountered. It’s kind of like meeting a leprechaun, I guess.

Lucky me.

Mouth movers: Have you ever been speaking to an otherwise “normal” adult and gradually began to realize that that person’s mouth was silently mouthing the words you were speaking, as you were speaking them. As this realization comes over you, you find yourself getting so distracted that, unless you look away, you lose your train of thought.

Now, we aren’t talking about someone consciously and sarcastically mimicking you. We’re talking about someone who is either unaware they are mouthing your words or is unable to stop doing it.

While mouth moving is certainly one way to get you to stop talking, in the limited opinions I found on the subject, it is generally thought to be an indicator of the opposite inclination: The mouth mover is concentrating so hard on your words that he is reiterating them in his own mind to process them. And it is said you should take this as a compliment — so, I will.

Circling talkers: Nowhere could I find a single online mention of the phenomenon of the circling talker. But perhaps you have encountered one of these folks.

Say you meet a circling talker face to face on a sidewalk. Now, you know this person well enough to have a long conversation, and one such begins with you directly in front of each other. As the talking progresses, your circling talker begins to do just that, shifting inch by inch, counterclockwise, around you. You, being the polite sort, naturally begin to turn to your left so as to keep facing this person.

Now the circling talker is not trying to avoid you or to get past you. That becomes evident if you keep turning with him, because he will literally turn you in a complete circle — and go for another if the conversation goes on long enough.

Since there is no scientific answer available that I can find, I have to draw my own conclusions here: The circling talker is messing with your head. He is dominating you in the conversation by making you follow his dance lead.

But I have the solution.

Once I realize I am being turned, I stop turning and hold my ground. Eventually, as the circling talker moves out of my peripheral vision on the left, he loses eye contact and is forced to come back — thereby putting me in control. And if I really want to mess with him, I start circling in the opposite direction and make him follow me.

It’s all good fun and good communication, right?

Next week, drooling for effect.

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