31 March 2009
Long ago, I heard one of the founders of conversation analysis (and I can’t remember whether it was Emanuel Schegloff or Gail Jefferson) talking about ‘pre-delicate hitches’ – a rather cumbersome piece of jargon for referring to a fairly common occurrence in conversation.
‘Hitches’ are things like ‘uh-’ and ‘um-, restarts of a word, or slight pauses, and the observation was that these are regularly found at those points in a conversation where the speaker is leading towards a word or a topic that they know is rather ‘delicate’ (e.g. a swear word, obscenity or potentially controversial news, gossip, etc.).
The general argument was that such ‘hitches’ are used to give advance notice that we’re about to say something that we know is rather ‘delicate’ – and know that others might find ‘delicate’ too.
I was therefore fascinated to notice that there were at least ten ‘pre-delicate hitches’ in the first four sentences of Gordon Brown’s comments about the scandal of the Home Secretary’s expenses claim for a blue movie watched by her husband – which you can check out by following the transcript below (hitches in bold) while watching the video HERE.
(P.S. Since posting this, I've realised that you can't actually read the transcript at the same time as watching the video, so keen anoraks will have to copy it on to another file and/or print it out).
"This is- this is very much a-a personal matter (pause) uh- for- for Jacqui.
"She’s made her uh- apology.
"Her husband has made it uh- clear that he is- he is apologised `(sic).
"Uh I-I think that the best thing is that Jacqui Smith gets- gets on with her work as- which is what she wants to do."
What these hitches suggest is that Mr Brown is finding the whole episode much more delicate than he’s letting on in the words that he actually uses.
(If you found this of any interest, you might also like to inspect my explanation of his claim to 'have saved the world' gaffe in December).