Every day we listen attentively to people of wisdom and exceptional command of language on radio and TV, as we are fed news from around the world. Documentaries and programmes on how everything under the sun works will amaze and whet our interest in the wonders of the universe.
Words of wisdom from the likes of GBS, Carl Marx, Winston Churchill or Yogi Berra are lodged in our heads and will continue to stand the test of time and be used in conversation for as long as people wish to partake of the human need to exchange thoughts and ideas.
Each one of us, from time to time, will have come out with some line in the course of conversation and that might even be remembered by others. However, it will come as no surprise to anyone to learn that most of our conversation is made up of nothing more than ‘small talk’.
The man in Mullingar will tell you ‘it isn’t a bad day’, or the lady in the La Zenia shop will equally inform you as to something you already know, ‘mucho calor.’
Some people claim that small talk is just so meaningless that it should be bypassed and we all ‘cut to the chase.’ I totally disagree. Small talk should always precede ‘big talk’ – just like the player having a warm up before a game of squash. It is a way of putting people at their ease. It makes people more comfortable in each other’s company, before jumping into the serious business or establishing common ground.
Despite all the advances in technological instant messages, small talk still remains the most essential ingredient in social interaction, Facebook can deliver a line to hundreds of your ‘friends’ at the touch of a button, but this connection has nothing in common with seeing the whites of your friends eyes, or the hint of a smile breaking out over something you just said.
Research actually shows (and no surprise here) that more small talk makes people happier. It benefits those with introverted tendencies even more so.
Small talk has often been denigrated as the lowest form of speech and the greatest waste of time. This column is a promoter of small talk. (Ah Lads, I have no control over the size of my brain – so lay off!)
In the ballrooms of the long ago, if you couldn’t open the dance floor conversation with, ‘do you come here often’, where then would you start? And when you asked if she was enjoying the dance, was she supposed to just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, instead of the extra few words in the line, ‘it’s a bit rough’?
Would a dentist be doing his job better if he decided to cut out non-essential verbals and approached his patient, pliers held out at the ready? No, silence at this juncture would not be a reassuring factor, but on the contrary give the impression of something alarming and threatening.
Would the barman be more efficient at his job if he announced to his customers, ‘OK, cut out this rubbish and just tell me what you want’? There is a strange and unpleasant tension when men face each other in silence.
‘Wasn’t that some goal that John Heslin scored against Meath’, is neither informative, useful or new as an opening line in a conversation and is therefore small talk – but God Almighty, wouldn’t it be a drab and colourless existence we were to get so uppity as to cease indulging in ‘the lowest form of speech’?
‘How’s it going’? ‘Ah, not too bad at all.’ That popular exchange has no worth whatsoever – other than its primary function of being either an ice-breaker, or two people being socially minded. Small talk plays a pleasurable and binding role in the art of social intercourse. It weaves the social fabric around our friendships and helps us to fit in with strangers.
‘Gossip’ should not be regarded as being beneath us either: It is, after all, just mostly small talk – or social talk about social dynamics.
Coronavirus is depriving us of most of our fix of small talk and I miss it. Conversations are all extremely serious these days. I for one am looking forward to the day when we can once again meet on the street and indulge in our favourite pastime of ‘small talk.’