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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 1 (April 1, 1940)

Word Without End

Word Without End.

Even when it is not used with malice aforethought or for the purpose of elevating the breeze in your vicinity it is an exhausting instrument. If you pass a friend in the street you can say, “How do you do?” and let it go at that without being expected to stop and thrash the matter out to the last symptom. But if you have an impulse to page 53 swap a fleeting greeting per telephone you can't say “How do you do?” and hang up. The telephone tradition demands that you lean with one elbow on the wall or both on the table and strain every nerve to be bright. Face to face with the other party you would merely be yourself and, however painful that might be, no offence would be taken. But there is something about the telephone for social purposes which causes you to behave in a manner which would brand you as “nuts” in normal circumstances. To add to the pain of social telephonetics, neither party to the ordeal is ever willing to ring off. Both keep on saying, “Yes—oh, yes,” “True, true,” “That is so,” “Quite,” while both vainly try to think up some remark that will close the song and dance without leaving a wound that the years will fail to heal.

There certainly are super-souls who do not flinch when the buzzer fires off at them, but they are people who would spend their spare time leaning against wild bulls or firing catapults at tax collectors if there were no telephones to give their daring an airing. Such people are not shaken to the suspenders even when their creditors get them hooked up and play them on the end of the wire.

All of the above explains why nice people with nice faces and usually humane instincts answer the telephone in a manner suggesting that they hate it intensely, and a voice at the other end even more. This is why ordinarily courteous men snap “Brrump!” at you through the telephone while others moan “Ye-aaaaaaa-s,” as though passing away in the most frightful agony at the other end; also why many howl at you despairingly as though bemoaning the brevity of life and the infinity of the human voice.