Civil Note:
Braying
17 June 2019

As I took my accustomed seat at the barbershop recently, a young man in the next chair was telling one of the other barbers about his recent trip to “Perris.” Unfortunately, I could hear every other word that he spoke, too. I learned how he proposed to his fiancée there, and just why she was surprised (clever, actually — and therefore, necessarily, redacted). I learned that, notwithstanding every effort, he cannot bring himself to respond to a particular foodstuff without gagging. A change in jobs was indicated, along with the prospect of a dwelling of some kind in a rather attractive part of another city. I can only hope that he will soon find himself sitting in a barbershop there

The French complain that Americans are bruyant, which simply means “noisy,” but my incorrigible inner etymologist cannot resist linking this word to our “braying.” I have no real idea what human braying would sound like, to tell you the truth; I probably haven’t spent more than ten hours, life-time total, in proximity to any animals other than cats, dogs, and other household pets, none of which can be said to bray. I must be thinking of Mr Ed, the television horse who talked in a distinctly outside voice. And as a terrible East-Coast snob — oh, am I ever! — “braying” seems unmistakably to be the mot juste for the manner of speech that spouts “Perris.” 

I had been reading when the young man came into the shop, but I had to put down my book when he opened his mouth. I am not blessed with the ability to block out auditory distractions, which is possibly why my hatred of television, developed in waiting rooms and other people’s houses, is so visceral. The young fellow filled the entire space with his words, leaving no room for any others. It was partly raw loudness, but partly, too, a pervading tenor pitch. And he was no conversationalist, either; he was still too much the enthusiastic puppy to wait for the barber’s replies. It was upsetting to find that such good-natured excitement about the wonders of being alive could be so obnoxious. 

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