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06/01/2014 11:21 EDT | Updated 08/01/2014 05:59 EDT

What I Learned This Week: Doubling Up on a Word or Phrase Kills It

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You'll never know what lesson you'll learn just by keeping your ears open. To wit, last week, I was a guest at a tribute roast event at my synagogue. I specify the "guest" status blatantly, as most times, my attendance at one of these soirees is in the guise of MC, host, auctioneer or other working position that deflects and refocuses my senses of attention.

Happily, said event was a sold-out success, which meant that organizers had to squeeze over 350 people into the downstairs celebration hall; a first. This first also led to a slightly overwhelmed kitchen staff, who were called to serve more meals faster than any time ever before in building's history.

This obviously led to a few meals being slightly, shall we say, "tardy," which led to the subsequent frustration of some of the guests, which ultimately led to this following exchange between a frustrated guest and beleaguered waiter:

Guest with a slightly masked whine:

"We've been waiting 15 minutes for our food. What's the problem?"

Somewhat shell-shocked waiter:

"It's coming...it's coming."

A seemingly innocent dialogue; no verbal explosions, insults or threats of physical violence. The waiter, while not beaming with a smile, was far from nasty-faced or bitter. When it was over, the guest, still frustrated, returned to her table. And the waiter moved on, looking to the kitchen for the next wave of trays.

All relatively innocuous. But here's what I learned in the 27 or so seconds it took for the above psychodrama to take place:

Doubling up on a word or phrase kills it.

Worse, it takes something meant to be positive and exponentially reduces it negatively.

Had the waiter simply smiled and said, "It's coming," and stopped there, the guest would've been reassured, and hopefully, satisfied. It would've been a mere statement of fact, and given hope to the guest.

But the two-time repetition of the words "It's coming...it's coming," a double-header separated by an ellipses-length beat, instead revealed a sense of frustration, denial and even ignorance on the part of the waiter, leading the guest to feel somewhat shoved aside, her concerns ignored and the problem still festering.

The more I thought of this, the more I realized I stumbled upon something simple yet profound just by keeping my ears open that night.

Stay with me for a few lines, and don't merely read the following examples; allow yourself the additional educational effectiveness of saying them out loud:

Husband: "Honey, come on, supper's ready!"

Wife: "Okay!"

or

Wife: "Okay...okay!"

--------------

Project Leader: "I think the headline needs to be a bit bolder."

Graphic Artist: "I hear you."

or

Graphic Artist: I hear you...I hear you!"

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Father: "Did you write the thank you letter to that person who did you a favor?"

Son: "I will."

or

Son: "I will...I will!"

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Mother: "You should give Auntie Betty a call. She's getting old, and could use some attention and conversation."

Daughter: "I get it"

or

Daughter: "I get it...I get it!"

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I could go on with these for hours...for hours! But I think you get my drift.

Saying what you mean once is enough. Anything more changes the meaning of what you're saying.

In a strange paradox, doubling up on your words actually diminishes their power in these circumstances. An efficient, straightforward statement of fact repeated twice (or even worse, three times!) becomes a snarky counterproductive act of denial, an ill wind of exasperation.

Less, I guess, has never been more "more."

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