Verbal tics are largely unavoidable, for most people. The ability to communicate extemporaneously in a fluent way is a skill reserved only for people trying to sell you something and medical professionals when they are being condescending. “Like,” “um,” and the rest are useful noises for when you are trying to think of, like, how to phrase what you’re going to say next. Verbal tics are fine. But manipulation is not. And that is why we need to discuss “right?”
"The Governor and I and we were all doing a tour of the library here and talking about the significance of the passage of time. Right? The significance of the passage of time." Right?
Kamala Harris said this in a speech to a Sunset, Louisiana crowd last week, while discussing the need for expanding broadband coverage in small communities. She repeated the phrase “the significance of the passage of time” four times in short succession, the weird ramblingness of which made certain sects of people foam at the mouth. But the focus on “the significance of the passage of time” (the significance of the passage of time) clouds what is the actual insidious element of her remarks. Right? That would be the interjectory rhetorical question: “Right?”
Right? used rhetorically in speech does not hold the same innocence as the more common tics. Though used just as freely, it isn’t merely a placeholder. It has a purpose. It is a presumptive and dictative tool. The speaker of “right?” tells their audience, what I’ve just said has resonated with you. It makes perfect sense. What I’ve just alleged is not up for debate; it is a profound truth on which we both agree. You think this, too; you always have. And with that settled, I’ll move on.
The lightly fascist verbal tic tells you what you think, and then its user continues their point before you get a chance to consider whether you indeed think that way or not. In the case of Kamala Harris, you are being told that what you are hearing resonates with you and, in fact, holds great gravitas. The significance of the passage of time. Right. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PASSAGE OF TIME. (That’s me speaking in a zombie voice.) THE PASSAGE OF TIME IS SIGNIFICANT.
Of course “the significance of the passage of time” is only one example of this phenomenon. But because I would rather not watch cable news for more clips or dictate my own conversations with friends, I will use my imagination to come up with a few more examples for you.
- We’ve been holding our tongues regarding the rhetorical use of “right?” even though it’s a scourge. Right? But now need to work together as a society to stop it.
- The fact that the writer doesn’t offer more public examples of this tic doesn’t do much damage to the overall persuasiveness of her argument. Right? Frankly we’re just glad someone is finally talking about it.
- It’s hard for people to get behind this writer sometimes because on top of being good at her job, she is just absolutely stunning. Right? So, people are jealous.
- A four-day workweek would increase productivity and shareholder profits. Right? And that is only part of why we’re asking BDG to instate it immediately, ideally this week or sooner.
- The book The Particulars of Peter is considered the main “hot girl book” for summer 2022. Right? So unless you want to seem like an absolute loser you should buy a copy right now.
(Obviously each of these happens to be true, but that doesn’t take away from my overall message. Right?)
The next time you hear someone tell you, right?, think: is that right? And the next time you are tempted to compel the agreement of the person you are speaking to think: am I manipulating this conversation in a way that is as transparent as it is annoying? And then after that remember to think: Yes. Because you are, and we don’t like it.