In Praise of Gibberish

I feel I’ve been left out. Maybe you have, too.

All these years, I’ve been writing and speaking but never yet speaking in tongues.

People start jabbering in what sounds like a language, but you can’t understand what they’re saying – and neither can they, and they don’t care. It’s God’s language, or the language of angels. It’s divine, and that’s all that matters.

The setting is usually a Pentecostal, Evangelical, or other Charismatic religious service. The congregation really gets into it – everyone talking at once – and afterwards they all feel great.

Glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. T. M. Luhrman, a Stanford professor of anthropology, attended such services in the southern U.S. and in Ghana and wrote about it last week in the Times. She had come away impressed with genuine glossolalia but also tipped off by a Pastor on how the real thing could be faked.

Just say, “I should have bought a Hyundai” 10 times very fast, and you’ll sound like you’re speaking in tongues.

That’s my only hope – faking it. I mean no disrespect, but why should we non-religious people be left out in the cold?

If you’d like to join the fake glossolalia movement, “I should have bought a Hyundai” is a good start, and for convincing variety we should supplement it with a few other passages. But remember, you need to mash syllables unintelligibly, as Catholics sometimes do when they try to say the Rosary too rapidly to work off their penance after going to Confession – “thykingdomcomethywillbedoneonearthasitisinheaven.”

Uttered in this fashion, you might use a list of ingredients from a can of refried beans or the last names from the roster of a bowling league.

I thought we might find some glossolalia in the Notre Dame fight song, though not in the first line – “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame” — which could easily blow your cover. Skip to something like, “Wake up the echoes cheering her name / Sending a volley cheer on high / Shake down the thunder from the sky.” And pray they won’t fumble.

People might recognize “Notre Dame,” so it would be wise to substitute the fight song of Milsaps College in Mississippi. They use the same music as Notre Dame, as does the East Freemantle Football Club in West Australia, which really is God’s country, so the rhythms should be about right.

From Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech, we might try, “…the pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office, and the spurns …”

Holly suggested (from no source in particular): “Yvonne Goolagong a piggy wan in a Vera Wang, Eminem”

And William Cullen Bryant wrote lots of colorful, lyrical gibberish which some of us had to memorize in high school. Take any dozen or two words from anywhere in “To a Waterfowl”:

“Seekest thou the pashy brink
of reedy lake or marge of river wide?
or where the rocking billows rise
and sink on the chafed oceanside?”

I’d suggest starting with “reedy lake” and ending with “rise and sink” — and repeat without a pause. Another possible source of fake tongues would be advertising slogans. Here’s one from a 60-year-old paean to cigarettes:

“LS/MFT…LS/MFT…Lucky Strike means fine tobacco.”

Or take a fragment from a Pepsi Cola jingle of the same vintage – “…hits the spot, twelve full ounces, that’s a lot…twice as much for a nickel, too…”

We often indulge in political satire here at The Horse, but you won’t find any references above to Capitol Hill, our age’s Tower of Babble. That’s because what they’re doing is the exact opposite of Speaking in Tongues.

Instead of voicing the language of angels as a way of partaking in heaven, certain members of Congress (Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, a couple of hundred others) are trying to make outrageously harebrained gibberish sound as if it were rational. That’s their way of telling the rest of us to go to hell.

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About Al

Editors of The Horse You Rode In On (listed below) hail from Boston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. All contributions are signed. When guest contributors are included, their comments will be signed in a manner consistent with their needs for discretion, witness protection, or yearning for personal adulation.