THERE is a Church Times house rule that columnists
should avoid question marks. That is going to make this column
incredibly difficult to write.
My theme this week is Up-Talk, the almost universal habit among
the educated under-35s of ending sentences with an upward
inflection(?). So you come to the end of what you are trying to
say, and your voice rises in a kind of insecure, questioning
way(?). So people know that you are really engaged with them, and
hope that the inflection suggests that you are really welcoming
To anyone of my generation, Up-Talk is bafflingly unnecessary.
It seems to set out to flatter, but in reality it merely annoys. It
appears to be a form of self-deprecation, but it ends up coming
over as self-referential. The trouble is that it is addictive, and
I find myself doing it when I don't want to or need to - especially
if I am talking to an Up-Talker.
It seems to be almost a form of politeness, a way of
acknowledging "the otherness of the other", which is a generally
good thing to do, and is approved by Emmanuel Levinas and others
philosophers whom Christian moral theologians take seriously. My
secret hope that it reveals no more than that the narcissistic
insecurity of an over-pampered generation will not stand up to such
What I am now wondering is whether using it would improve my
sermons. So here I am today, preaching at matins in Christ
Church(?). (Am I? Am I really here? Can you just affirm that
before I go on?) And we are going to look at some verses from
Matthew's Gospel(?). (If you prefer Mark, Luke, or John, that
is really fine by me, but unfortunately that is not what I have
prepared; so you're going to have to put up with what I am about to
say?) Is that all right, then?
And perhaps Up-Talk would improve my prayer life. Dear God.
. . (why?)
We could, of course, always invent Down-Talk, with a downward
inflection at the end of each sentence. That would, if practised
properly, with a heavy and forbidding voice, disinvite response,
and bring conversations to an end. Some preachers already know
this: they have been doing it for years. What God thinks about it I
do not know.
It does not require a punctuation mark to signal the practice of
Down-Talk; but one of those really miserable, down-in-the-mouth,
unsmiley faces would do the job.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,
Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Develop- ment Adviser for the
diocese of Oxford.