Every-day Thoughts in Prose and Verse
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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On Conversation.
    The almost universal need of the charming
creature, the American girl, is elegance of
    Set yourself the task of finding a young woman
of your acquaintance who uses choice language, who
knows how to tell an anecdote or relate an experi-
ence in a few well-selected, concise sentences, and
whose voice is agreeable at the same time.
    No matter in what social circle you make your
search, the task will be a difficult one to accom-
    American girls are great talkers. Their conver-
sation is full of wit, originality, brightness, and
ideas.  But their expression is almost invariable
below par.
    I have in mind six young women of superior
mind, three of them decidedly talented, and all of
them educated and accomplished, whose intolerable
reiteration of the phrase "don't you know" ruins
their conversation for any sensitive listener.
    These young ladies are not related, nor are they
all intimates, but they have all acquired the expres-
sion from some source, and used it until it has
become an unconscious mannerism.
    Not long since I listened while two of these were
talking together.
    "I wanted to see you all last week," said one,
"but I was awfully busy, don't you know, and a
thousand and one little matters came up to fritter
away my time, don't you know, and it was Sunday
before I could realize it was the middle of the
    "Yes," said the other "it is always the foolish
little nothings, don't you know, which take one's
    "I just wasted the whole week over attempts at
shopping--just attempts, don't you know.  I did
not find a single thing I was looking for.  Those
times come, don't you know, and again you will
just happen upon the very thing you are looking
for in the first shop you enter, don't you know."
    This is not in the least an exaggerated account of
the conversation.  Neither of the young women was
aware of her wearisome use of the phrase, and quite
possible each was wishing the other did not employ
it so frequently.
    Most of us are wishing other people were free of
our own faults.
    It is a rare thing to hear a young woman--or an
older one, for that matter--tell a story in a clear,
direct manner.
    Mind wandering and branching off into auxiliary
stories, and beating about the conversational bush
are faults which mar the narratives of most women.
    The fault is not, indeed, confined to woman.
Direct and well chosen phrases are rare among
men, but not so rare as with us.
    Men have less time to express themselves, as a
rule; they have some positive message to deliver,
and they go about it and get done with it.  It is
fortunate for them.  Their listeners would not put
up with them otherwise.
    A pretty young woman will be endured while she
bores us, because she pleases the eye; but how
much more delightful she is if she pleases the ear
and the mind at the same time.
    It would be an excellent idea if young women
would form story-telling clubs and elect some good
critic, man or woman, to listen and correct their
faults of expression.
    The aim of each speaker or narrator should be to
avoid circumlocution, repetitions of words or
phrases, slang or mannerisms, and to go as directly
as possible to the point of her story.
    The voice, too, should be modulated and pronun-
ciation perfected.  Simple language is always pref-
erable to stilted phrases in telling a story, but
there is a large choice in simple words for one who
uses a little care and thought.
Every-day thoughts in prose and verse. by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1901.
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