It happened again. Someone’s left a voicemail message, but all I can make out is “hi.” The rest? Who knows? I don’t recognize the voice and have no idea what she said. Should I call back anyway? Is mush-mouthed talking a new kind of scam?

We used to leave messages on our answering machines asking everyone to speak slowly and clearly. Apparently most people thought we were joking. Leaving a coherent message was funny.

These days, most messages are incoherent. With caller ID I can at least figure out who called so I can retrieve the number, but after that? If it’s sufficiently garbled, even the caption phone won’t decipher it. It’ll say “Incomprehensible” or “muffled” or something else that means “sorry, no idea what he or she said.”

“Garry, your brother called. I’m pretty sure he wants to talk to you. Call him, okay?”

“Hey, Jim called about something. Call him when you have a moment.”

“One of your cousins called. They left a message but I can’t make it out. I hope you have the number somewhere.”

My favorite: “Someone called. Maybe it was important. They left a number but I can’t understand it. Guess it wasn’t important enough.” NOTE: If it really is important and we don’t call back? Pick up the phone and call again. Seriously. If it’s important, make sure we got the message.

wires and blue sky

The best part of having a cell phone is that you don’t have to depend on what someone recorded to get the number. Also, our iPhone not only records the message, it types it out too. With underscores for the incomprehensible sections.

Meanwhile, if you leave a message, speak up. Clearly. Repeat the phone number. Slowly. Include ALL the numbers. Don’t assume we know the area code and please remember to include your name in case we don’t know you as well as you think we do or we don’t recognize your voice.

Please don’t mumble. Garry has hearing issues, but I also don’t hear as well as I used to. Too many people talk as if they are eating oatmeal while they talk.

While we’re on the subject, how about old cell phones, eh? On which you can’t hear anything? From either end? I also miss telephones on which you knew you had a connection that wouldn’t drop and on which you could usually hear what someone said to you and know they could hear you.

The other day I got a customer service rep and realized that not only could I not understand what she was saying, but she had no idea what I was saying. I have no objection to immigrants. I come from a family of immigrants. I have BEEN an immigrant. I do object to putting people who can’t speak my language into the technical group.

No wonder texting is so popular. No one can understand what anyone else is saying.

Categories: Communications, Hearing, Humor, Technology

Tags: , , , ,

16 replies

  1. If I can’t understand what they’re saying, I just hangup. If it’s that important, a true friend will call again.


    • I will hang up when I can’t hear because hearing is kind of a requirement on phone calls. Between the wi-fi “landline” and the cell, sometimes you just can’t hear — especially because we have a really sad ISP for this area.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Hi, It’s the Ayatollah, calling you PERSONALLY. Have I got a deal for you!”


  3. Yes, plenty of scams use partial messages and garbled messages to get you to call back.


  4. In ‘the day’ there used to be phone etiquette, just like learning proper table manners or social skills. Now? I think that idea flew out the window with the onset of the cell phone mania. I tell people not to text me, because my cell phone is so rarely turned on at all, but they still insist on trying and then say “What? You DON’T TEXT:??” as if I’ve violated some sacred law. For the reasons you gave, texting is great. I agree that more and more people seem to think mumbling is a good enough way to communicate on the phone. My hearing is diminishing every day and now my landline is acting up too. Maybe it’s a fact that I’m just not supposed to get phone calls any more. Road flares if it’s urgent are probably good enough. 😉

    I also have no problem with immigrants manning the call centers. I’d bet there are few Americans who want those jobs because they don’t pay enough. If I’m confronted (IF they happen to get me to answer the phone) with an English isn’t the First Language person, I’ve gotten a bit callous about saying I want an English as a first language speaker if I can’t make out what they’re saying or they continue to misunderstand what I’m saying to them. Usually they’re fine with handing the call to someone else, but I had one Indian gentleman get quite upset and keep insisting that he did too speak English as his first language. He ended up hanging up on me. Whatever.


    • Well for many Indians, English IS their first language. Ditto the Scots and have you ever tried to have a conversation with one of them? It’s English, but not the one I speak. When Garry and I were in Ireland, he understood them better than I did because he could read lips a bit and I couldn’t.

      How many times can you say “Excuse me, can you repeat that?” before you’re too embarrassed to say it again? Answer: THREE. By the fourth time, you just smile and hope they weren’t telling you about the death of a close family member.

      The mumbling is because they no long have a speech therapist coming into schools to help kids learn to talk properly. They did when I was a kid, though I didn’t really solve my speech impediments until I was in College where I got a degree in Speech and Drama. I really got that degree because I needed serious help with my speech and that way, I could get a degree AND talk like a civilized person. At the same time (yay). But, like you, my hearing ain’t what it used to be and I’ve never been really good at finding the English in the accent. Some people are much better at it than I am.

      Mostly though, it’s people who are supposedly friends who talk WAY TOO FAST or sound like they have three finger in their mouth while speaking or their dogs are barking or their mouths are pointing one way and the phone is going the other way. One of them, I actually strongly recommended he get some speech therapy which he ignored because he doesn’t think he needs help. Owen does a brilliant imitation of him by putting one hand in his mouth and then talking. I fall over laughing every time.

      The cell phone has solved some problems only because it records the phone number AND prints out messages. I text when I have to, but I don’t like it. I do it anyway but it annoys me. Why can’t we just TALK to each other? It’s so much FASTER. And easier.


  5. I like when people talk like they text. That’s always fun. Language is so weird. We’re all aliens.


    • I don’t mind people talking like they speak. In fact, good writing is often how you talk — written down. It’s that I can’t understand what they are saying. I can cope with weird grammar and even grammatical short cuts, but i can’t HEAR them. It’s just mush mouthed. I always wonder if no one has mentioned to them that a little speech therapy could go a long way to improving their communications. Thus speaks a BA in Speech.


      • Well I maintain that while some folks don’t seem to know how to speak, it’s not always their fault. it’s apparent that the cell phone manufacturers did not bother to research phone sound of the past. Old phones, of the Bell and AT&T variety were the result of careful considerations where sound was concerned. These companies limited the bandwidth of phone communication, on purpose, to eliminate frequencies that would muddy the results. They also placed the microphone in front of your mouth, ironically, the source of your speech.., DUH!…, and not under the bottom of the phone. I stubbornly held onto my old iPhone SE because I liked the size and could put it neatly into my shirt, or pant, pocket. My career involved good sound, so imagine the embarrassment, I felt, when people complained that they couldn’t understand, or hear me, when using my cell phone. I would switch to “speaker” mode that seemed to be a little better. Bottom line; when the battery in my phone decided to die I traded it in on a new iPhone 12Mini. Much better sound. How come it took them so long to solve this problem?

        I still have my mom’s old, Hot Pink, Princess analog dial phone, which still works BTW.


        • We also have the 12mini (Owen bought it for us). I use the speaker because I can hear it. When it isn’t on speaker, I CAN’T hear it.

          Between the pathetic quality of phone speakers and the pathetic quality of how people talk, forgot about grammar. I just don’t know what the hell they are actually trying to SAY. I’m pretty sure that’s why people text. Although I don’t always understand that, either, especially if they are using “text-speak” which eliminates words and just uses letters. Say what?


          • I hear ya! I’ve had to learn to use “text speak”, just so them young’uns can feel I’m “hip” and “with it.” Expecting correct grammar is way off the beaten path. Intelligibility, would be a tremendous upgrade, and that depends on a combination of technology and personal training/conviction? Last I heard, “words” are the foundation of language.., unless I missed something?


  6. Accents can be a problem when you are trying to communicate. Someone was telling me the other day that she had to switch doctors because she could not understand a word her GP said. You need to understand the advice you are being given.
    I’ve had a few speech to text messages on the phone and they are usually pretty garbled. I suppose that it doesn’t help that I have an unusual (for here) name. The phone always interprets it as something else.
    It’s why I like texting too. I can make myself understood in a text message because I text in English not in emojis and abbreviations. On the other hand there was a friend of David’s who would either text or instant message me and usually I had no idea what she was trying to tell me. She obviously did not believe in editing either.


    • I just wish people would SLOW DOWN when they leave messages. Numbers especially. And there are a few of them who are just AWFUL. They supposedly speak American English, but it is unintelligible. Completely garbled. Then there are people who do speak “native” English — except they come from Scotland or Ireland or India and they may understand each other, but to me? What? Huh?

      Especially people who talk so fast that even when they AREN’T on the phone, you aren’t sure what they said, but on the phone? What????

      Liked by 1 person

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