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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Me Talk Pretty One Day

David Sedaris

Like David Sedaris and so many other unfortunate children, I endured speech therapy in the first grade.  For me, it wasn’t a lisp that landed me there.  It was the letter R.  I pronounced it much like a W, saying fowk instead of fork, sowwy instead of sorry, chuwch instead of church.  I also had some trouble slurring multi-syllable words with soft consonants in the middle.  (I now over-correct this.  My former partner used to give me a hard time for pronouncing all three syllables of the word cabinet.)

One of my best friends was a kid named Stewart.  The friendship was doomed from the start.  My parents and teachers heckled me because I would run Stewart together into Stort, except the pesky R would mash it still further into something like Stowt.  I remember conversations with my mother about him, and she would interject with “Stew-wart”, to which I would reply, “Yeah, Stowt”.  Eventually, it was just easier to stop talking about him, and then to stop being friends with him.  It occurs to me now that I should have just nicknamed him “Stu”, and we probably would have been fine.

My school was too small for a full-time speech therapist, so a couple of times a week a yellow van would park out in front of the school.  The van served as a mobile speech lab, where those of us with poorly-disciplined tongues and lips would actually have to exit the school, trudge down the sidewalk, and get into the van to have our consonants sharpened.  It must have worked, because my diction seems pretty socially acceptable these days, if a bit too rigid at times.

In my defense, the letter R must be the least-agreed-upon consonant in the Western world.  With the exception of the Castilians, everyone seems to agree as to what an S should sound like.  Nobody agrees upon R.  The Brits round it out, not entirely unlike I did as a child.  The French swallow it, as if it were a dirty thing not to be let loose into the world.  The Italians roll the R deliciously to the front of the mouth, a gentle tease as compared to the Mexican trill which thrusts its way to the tip of the tongue with unashamed abandon.

As for me, I learned French.  While I can hatchet out an acceptable American R (as much a growl as a consonant), I’m perfectly happy to choke it to the back of the throat in the French fashion.  The Mexican trill will be forever lost to me.  When I try it, I sound not like a dangerous Zapatista, but much like a drowning woodpecker.

But Me Talk Pretty: I bought it in an airport, read most of it on a plane, and liked all of it.  I suppose Sedaris finally solved his lisp, or at least made peace with it.  I’ll never know what became of Stewart.  Hopefully he went on to make new friends, ones who could pronounce his name magnificently.