Every few months I come across this dismaying statistic: women utter 20,000 words a day; men, 7,000. And, while I’ve never seen an actual study cited, only a one-or two-paragraph summary in a major news publication, I suspect the results may be grossly inaccurate.
I’m left to wonder how the researchers define “words.” For instance, at last night’s dinner table when I wanted the butter, I said to my husband: “Honey, could you please pass me the butter? I know that I probably shouldn’t put any on this huge piece of amazing Italian bread but I don’t think I’ll enjoy it properly if I don’t have at least one slab. What do you think? Should I have the butter or save the calories for the chocolate mousse cake that Lisa sent you as a gift after your knee surgery? I don’t know where she got it because the box she brought it in was plain white and I keep forgetting to ask her.”
“Mmmm,” my husband replied.
Which begs the question: Would “Mmmm” be counted as a word in the study? Because, if so, my husband would have been up to a mere nine words by the end of the evening. Just moments before, in response to my query: “How do you like the fish? I tried a new mango/lime/chipotle marinade and I know you’re not crazy about chipotle but I thought the mango/lime would temper the spiciness and your acid reflux seems to be much better lately,” I believe he said, “Mmmm.”
Does that mean he likes the fish, I wondered, or was he just acknowledging that his heartburn has settled down, allowing him to enjoy my recent forays into Caribbean cooking?
By the time we actually made it to the chocolate mousse cake, I had shared the results of my morning tennis match, giving him the blow-by-blow accounting of key points, particularly those that involved my striking opponents with perfectly placed overheads and high volleys, like the second point of the first game of the third set during which I rushed the net to crush a floater with the forehand slice that the new pro at my club has been teaching me. It seems my volleys were too flat, resulting in unforced errors, while carving the ball (like peeling an orange, as Jorge described so metaphorically, with his mellifluous Argentinian accent and quivering quadriceps) keeps the trajectory of the ball lower after contact. When, after summarizing the rollercoaster, nail-biter of a tiebreak we won to take the deciding set, I asked my husband how he was enjoying the sinfully rich mousse cake, he responded, this time, more enthusiastically, “Mmmmm.”
In light of the study results, particularly after last night’s repartee, I’m beginning to wonder if the researchers had counted not only the various guttural sounds made by the average American man today, but also the pelvic scratching noises, eruptions of gas, and clearings of nasal passages in order to truly document the communications that men seem to emit in lieu of discernible conversation.
This study, as you might have guessed, continues to trouble me. It was so tersely summarized the last time I saw it that I might have to go back and find the research online in its entirety. Frankly, I’m beginning to believe that the article may have been written by a man.
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