Friday, September 3, 2010

Are You a Skid-Talker?

This article by Corey Ford appeared in 1954 in Reader's Digest.  I couldn't find it online anywhere, but it deserves to be available to a new generation of readers.  Enjoy.

"You can't blame me for making a mistake," my friend Bunny said the other day.  "After all, none of us are human."  I was trying to figure that one out when she added thoughtfully, "I may be wrong but I'm not far from it."

Bunny is a skid-talker.  Skid-talk is more than a slip of the tongue.  It's a slip of the whole mind.  In effect, it puts one idea on top of another, producing a sort of mental double exposure - and my friend Bunny is a master of the art.  When her husband, a prominent Hollywood director, completed a screen epic recently she told him loyally, "I hope it goes over with a crash."  She was very enthusiastic after the preview.  "It's a great picture," she assured everyone.  "Don't miss it if you can."

That's the insidious thing about skid-talk - you're never quite sure you've heard it.  Skid-language is like a time bomb; it ticks away quietly in your subconscious, and suddenly, a few minutes later, your mind explodes with the abrupt realization that something about the remark you just heard was a trifle askew.

"If George Washington were alive today," Bunny told me once, "he'd turn over in his grave."  On another occasion she opened a debate with this challenging sentence: "For your information, let me ask you a question."

The simplest kind of skid-talk consists of mixing words.  For example:

"Too many cooks in the soup."

"From time immoral."

"There I was, left holding the jackpot."

"It was so dark you couldn't see your face in front of you."

"I want some hot-water juice and a lemon."

A devoted mother added another gem to my collection: "I'm going to have a bust made of my daughter's head."  And a stranger whom I discovered feeding pigeons in Central Park explained to me with quiet dignity: "I believe in being dumb to kind animals."

Sometimes a skid-talker will turn an entire sentence inside out so effectively that the listener can't possibly set it straight again.  I keep wondering about a statement I overheard the other day at the station: "He tells me something one morning and out the other."  And I have yet to discover what's wrong with Bunny's advice to a young married couple: "Two can live as cheaply as one, but it costs them twice as much."

Bunny is a natural skid-zophrenic.  "I'm a split personality all in one," she describes herself happily.  She lives in a handsome country place of which she says dreamily, "Isn't it pretty?  The lake comes right up to the shore."  "I went to a wonderful party," she said of a recent celebrity-studded banquet.  "Everybody in the room was there."  She made sure to thank the hostess as she departed.  "Darling, that was the best dinner I ever put in my whole mouth."

Bunny's insults are equally bewildering.  "I never liked you, and I always will," she told a prominent screen star frankly.  And a perennially young starlet is still trying to decipher Bunny's candid appraisal, "You're old enough to be my daughter."

The best skid-talk fuses two thoughts together, creating a new short cut which speeds up the language.  I remember a New Year's Eve party when Bunny became fearful that the sounds of midnight revelry might disturb the neighbors.  "Don't make so much noise," she told the celebrants.  "Remember, this isn't the only house we're in."

I had an affectionate note from Bunny recently.  "Come see us again soon," she wrote.  "We miss you almost as much as if you were here."