stammerheadshark * blog about living with an acquired neurogenic stammer

When politeness just makes life harder

Posted on: September 5, 2009

Yesterday I was at a wedding (in Windsor incidentally and a great excuse for a trip to Legoland today – which was ace by the way!) and as much as anyone dreads the prospect of meeting a ridiculous amount of their boyfriend’s external family members in one fell swoop, I was just hoping they’d be able to understand me.

Fortunately one of the perks of being a “hanger-on” at a wedding means that no-one’s massively looking to engage you in conversation; you’re just obliged to make an effort to look nice, smile for the photos and make small talk – all of which is fine, and it’s not like this girl doesn’t like to take advantage of an occasion to wear a nice dress!

It’s the small talk bit that’s a problem these days. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind talking to strangers, I’ll happily babble away all day. The problem comes when they can’t understand me through the stammer.

For some people it’s fine, they just seem to adjust after the initial shock. As my speech therapist told me the first few times she met me, understanding what I’m trying to get out is alright once the listener realises that they’re going to hear the each syllable a few times and after a while they stop hearing it.

I guess it’s a bit like white noise over conversations, once you’re aware it’s there and tune into the speech behind it your brain just shuts out the bits you don’t need to listen to. (Only my brain doesn’t do that anymore, hence my inability to work if the radio’s on, to drive well if the window’s open or there’s music etc.)

Anyway, I digress. They were all such lovely people, eager to mingle and make light conversation, but throughout the day (and consequently more so in the evening as they all got that little/lot bit more drunk!) I found myself being given the wrong answers to enquiries I made.

Take the stammered question “Are you having a good day?”, to which the response was often a confused face and then a delayed, “No, we arrived last night…”.

Now, I’m pretty certain I wasn’t speaking another language but I think if people haven’t got the ear for understanding my stuttery speech they just try to pick up on any word they might recognise and take a wild stab in the dark. I suppose just as we do when conversing with foreigners whose language formation patterns we aren’t familiar with.

I should be grateful for how lovely and well-mannered they all were, and I don’t mind not being able to be understood occasionally – it’s not people’s fault, they’re just not used to being forced to listen differently and it takes time for their ear to adjust, I guess.

I think it just got a bit weary. If you spend all day trying to communicate and no-one’s really able to take in what you’re saying despite trying to, you just kind of feel like not bothering anymore. The words are lost on them anyway, and it’s that point in a not so sober evening to just jack in the effort and nod and smile politely without having to speak.

If only my stammer was like others who regain a degree of fluency when drinking alcohol, but it doesn’t. It’s always the same, drunk or otherwise. Which is probably fortunate, or I may have become a raging alcoholic by this point!

So, I guess it’s fine – I’ll just carry on sitting at the sidelines nodding and smiling. At least they tried to make the effort.

4 Responses to "When politeness just makes life harder"

I once thought alcohol could make me more fluent. And then I was pleasantly surprised when it couldn’t.

It’s quite interesting to hear ‘fluent’ people’s speech after
they’ve been drinking… It’s amazing how some can start stammering.

At least we can stammer without having to be under the influence of alcohol!

I never thought of it like that!

Although it’s always a bit of a party piece gimmick for people I know who stutter when drunk!

And not necessarily a positive thing! Although at least it makes it more lighthearted and less isolating 🙂

That’s so funny that you say that. I feel that my speech does become slightly more fluent the more I drink. Maybe it has something to do with the lack of attention I’m paying to myself and therefore I am more relaxed, making my mouth and jaw more fluid. And I also think it’s funny that those fluent speakers out there get a little booze in them and suddenly develop their own silly speech impediment.

Nonetheless, I have definitely encountered those people who are so patient and polite while I am trying to spit out the sounds I am trying to make. But even through all of their politeness, I can always spot a sense of discomfort in them. And I have the same reaction: I sit back, shut my mouth, and gently smile 🙂

The worst is when people tell me its “cute” that I stutter. That really bugs me for some reason!


Do you tell people that you have a stutter? I find that when I stutter, I stop and say that I have one. In a lot of people’s minds a bulb goes on that they need to be patient and pay a little more attention. I find the message gets across far better in these situations

As for alcohol, I become more fluent but I start to slur my words as well so I am not really sure which is better.

As for clarity of speech. I can’t really help the frequency of my stutter, sure I can slow things down and try to calm down a little but I stutter when I stutter. What I can do though is help the listener by trying to stop repeating sentences / words etc. If I really stutter on a word I pause for a moment and repeat it so I make sense. I also try not to fidget or pull faces lol.

The thing I hate most about a stutter is that I can get stuck on a meaningless word for ages. For example. ‘I have a cat.’ Might take me 60 seconds to say the word cat. By the time it comes out no one cares I have a cat.

Its like the more I stutter the more the listener expects something amazing. I might just start to make things up to hold a persons attention. ‘I have a c-, a c-, a c-, c-, c-, c-.’ *sigh* ‘I have a c-‘ *Pause* *Sod it* ‘I have a monkey as a pet!’… ‘what type of monkey’… ‘A big one!’ 😀

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