I assume that suit salesmen everywhere can spot a liar, and they know what to do when one walks in. “Let me show you the olive brown,” they say. “It looks trustworthy.” Marc Morano is intrigued—not for himself, of course, but as a gift for his mother, who wears men’s suits as a sexual thing. “She’s exactly my size,” he says. Thus do sales associates perform a national service—but do we heed them? We do not. Some of us let Marc Morano of Climatedepot.com talk on our televised current-events shows, and we wind up broadcasting into space messages like this:
Let the public decide what’s the truth.
If the aliens hear that, they’re just gonna lose all hope. Video after the jump.
The graph above comes from this excellent New York Times article about the Corpus of Contemporary American English, a massive, searchable database of written and spoken language from the last 20 years. As you can see, people sit bolt upright in novels a lot more than they do in journalism or conversation, possibly because interviews rarely start with the subject waking up and possibly because contemporary fiction is more mannered than we think. There is a big difference between vernacular and prose, as anyone who has read Dostoevsky will tell you. People are always exclaiming and crying and saying darling! in 19th century novels—a cataclysm of melodramatic affectation that was supposedly fixed by the advent of modernism. Modern and postmodern fiction prides itself on writing the way people really talk. The work of George Saunders and David Foster Wallace is peppered with likes and neurotic digressions, and if it does not exactly capture how we speak now, it at least gets how we think we speak now. As a little fiddling with the COCA reveals, however, the gulf between lived experience and fiction remains as wide as ever.