Just Kinda Like Talking Uh And Stuff, So

My irony meter endures a language test

by Marsha Hunter

May 29th’s Above the Law included a video about lawyers-turned-clothiers Matt Breen and Brian Trunzo of New York City. Having discovered a shared interest in fashion in law school, they nurtured it during their first years of practice. At last they bailed from BigLaw and opened Carson Street Clothiers in Soho, a shop catering to professional men, especially lawyers, who need a bit of help looking sharp on the job.

The Bloomberg Law video shows Breen and Trunzo looking fabulous indeed, with trendy haircuts and snappy jackets that would brighten up any office suffering under the drab cloud of business casual. And before I go on, let me emphasize that I love beautiful clothes. Though Brian Johnson and I do not give fashion advice except to recommend finding a good personal shopper, I admire well-dressed attorneys who take care to look professional. Gentlemen, if you live and work in New York, visit this shop and push your wardrobe to the next level.

Watching the video, though, I must ask, “Why bother dressing like power brokers while talking like teenagers?” Here is a transcribed selection, with my added boldface:

“It was, it was at first Brian’s idea and he called on the phone one day at work and he was like, I know we’ve always talked about it, What do you think about this? and I was like, I like it, Let’s go.”

Allow me to translate. And he was like, means “he said to me,” while and I was like means “and I said to him.” He was like and I was like is a sloppy alternative to the proper construction, the verbal equivalent of wearing ill-fitting chinos with a wrinkled shirt to work at a law firm. Instead of searching for a specific, interesting word, nowadays it is common to insert the lazy tip-of-the-tongue like construction.

In professional speech, this statement might have been, “Brian called me at work to suggest that we follow the dream we had both been dreaming—to open our own men’s clothing store that served male lawyers. I immediately said, ‘Let’s go!’”

Listen for the tendency to insert like in your own speech, and work to eliminate it. It is inartful and degrades language, and Baby Boomers who run law firms think people who use it sound like kids. Judges do not want it in the courtroom or on the record. And the irony of looking great and sounding tacky is what pushes the needle on my irony meter beyond its limit.

From the same video of beautifully-dressed shopkeepers, another contrast between sartorial splendor and lackadaisical linguistics:

“It wasn’t that out of left field, though, cause I had been writing my blog and I was doing um kind of guest editorial work for WGSN which is a trend forecaster, going to fashion shows, and writing about them, and going to trade shows and stuff, so Matt was in that community also, so we started making friends in that community, so it wasn’t so much just kinda like you know talking about it, we actually became friends with designers and editors and things like that and uh so it wasn’t so out of left field……”

This mouthful is one long sentence, strung together with um kind of and stuff just kinda like you know and things like that uh, so, used like spackle on a crumbling wall of verbiage. An alternative might be: “The idea of opening the shop didn’t come out of left field. I was writing my fashion blog, and we were both making friends in the fashion world. We had gotten to know a number of designers and editors.”

Speaking with precision isn’t that difficult. In fact, it is actually easier than launching a sentence without thinking. Picking your way through a thicket of irrelevant words is much harder than carefully constructing a thoughtful idea.

To be the well-turned-out attorney, shop where you are most likely to find beautiful clothes, assisted by people with good taste and fashion experience. To be the elegant articulate attorney, shape your ideas by speaking in well-considered phrases, and you’ll arrive at the ends of sentences sounding as graceful as you look.

Wishing Mr. Breen and Mr. Trunzo all great success at http://carsonstreetclothiers.com/