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Words, April 22



There's an awful lot of coffees in Brazil:

William Lindsey is concerned about “the tendency to talk about sipping ‘some beers,' or buying ‘some beers'. To my ears as a native Arkansan, that sounds as strange as addressing a group of folks as ‘you guys' rather than ‘you all.'

“Along with the ‘beers' usage, I notice more and more folks locally talking about having ‘a coffee,' rather than ‘a cup of coffee.' A nephew of mine, who seems at ease with whatever form of newspeak is manifesting itself in these usages, orders ‘a water' in restaurants. Will us guys soon be having ‘a tea'?”

I haven't heard a water yet, and a coffee only rarely. My generation still orders “coffee” or “a cup of coffee,” “water” or “a glass of water.” But I remember the line “You want a glass tea?” from an otherwise forgettable movie of a few years past, and it may be headed our way. Television and now the web have brought many previously unfamiliar usages to Arkansas. I'm not sure whether we're richer or poorer for that.

“Nadal was asked about [the exchange between] Sampras and Agassi after his Monday night match. ‘Everybody told me after the match what's happened, but during the match, you know how fast Americans speak, and I am Spanish. I didn't understand nothing.' ”

Do English-speakers talk faster than Spanish-speakers? It always seemed the other way around to me. I've never been accused of violating the conversational speed limit, and I doubt that many Arkansans have. New Yorkers, maybe so.

I consulted the eminent linguist Challis Muniz. “It all sounds like just a rush of noise if you don't understand what's being said,” she replied. As someone who understands what's being said, in both English and Spanish, Muniz said she hadn't noticed any significant difference in the speed at which the languages are spoken. In both languages, some people talk faster than others, she explained.

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