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And the Winner Is . . .

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 7.11.15 PMThere’s nothing like a dramatic pause to heighten the excitement of an announcement. As we’ll see next weekend, that’s how the Oscars are announced. The presenter declares “And the winner is … ” or “and the Oscar goes to … ” and then pauses to open the envelope and read the name. If the presenter has trouble opening or reading, so much the better. Every second increases the suspense.

This works too in shows like Project Runway and The Great Food Truck Race. Sometimes the pause comes just in time for a commercial, lasting a whole minute or two in the days before our TVs learned to skip commercials entirely.

In everyday conversation, we rarely have the rapt attention necessary to keep a listener engaged throughout a pause. It’s a rule of conversation that silence is an opportunity for the other party to begin speaking.

Fortunately, we have a remedy for that. It’s — wait for it — wait for it …

Yes, you don’t have to stop talking in order to — wait for it — heighten the suspense. Those three syllables provide just the right amount of — wait for it — delay to keep a listener on tenterhooks, even if the sentiment isn’t really — wait for it — exciting.

Could some of the great speeches of the past have been enhanced by this teaser?

Mr. Anthony: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your — wait for it — ears.”

Mr. Lincoln: “… dedicated to the proposition that all men are — wait for it — created equal.”

Mr. Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but — wait for it — fear itself.”

Those in the know say “wait for it” owes its popularity to the TV show How I Met Your Mother. Indeed, a website making that assertion presents as evidence 45 seconds of wait-for-it video clips, incidentally showing that the words are often accompanied by a raised hand.

“Wait for It” is a featured song in the Broadway musical Hamilton, but that’s entirely different. For everyday use, “wait for it” is — wait for it — just a filler, though a dramatic one.

And it works only for speech, because, of course, the listener can’t listen ahead. As this example shows, don’t — wait for it — try it in writing.

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