by

Nome Sane?

It wasn’t just the Sarah Palin thing. If you’ve been listening, America’s worried about our 49th state’s mental health.

It’s been a concern for a number of years now. You hear it on street corners and in subways. He’s what you might call a terrible human being, nome sane? You believe this weather, nome sane? Man, what I wouldn’t give right now for seats to the playoffs – owner’s box!—nome sane?  People say all sort of things they want you to pay attention to, and then punctuate it with a special concern for the sanity of Alaskans. Nome sane?

Sure, what they’re really saying—or sayin’—is “Know-what-I’m-saying?,” which took over from “Know what I mean?,” a luxurious four-syllabler we don’t have time for anymore. We don’t want to end a sentence with  Do you understand?, which it’s hard to make not sound angry or patronizing, and which comes frighteningly close to Have I made myself clear? There’s no way to make clear that Have I made myself clear? isn’t necessarily hostile, or at least definitely superior. It’s the end-tag a parent might use, or a seriously displeased clerk at the DMV. Asserting that you’re making yourself perfectly clear is a task doomed to failure, and besides it was co-opted by Foggy Bottomites decades ago.  

When we talk to one another we play down some rhetorical moves and lean heavily on others. It can be comforting to end what you’re saying with a little tag that brings the listener in close. Movies and popular fiction are an archive of  variants on the end-tag. You follow? or Got it? and my favorite—from the brief tedious period of sixties beach movies when middle-aged actors pretended to be surfing teens—Dig?

But those bits of gumshoe and movie dialogue are all usage antiques now. Every era needs its own casual sign-offs, those little bits of verbal punctuation that tie the listener back to the speaker.  When you next hear nome sane? you’ll be invited to give the speaker some  indication that you’ve been paying attention. But there’s no reason to think the helping professions need to worry about the folks in Nome any more than about the folks anywhere else.

 

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