The other night my wife and I went to a movie. Which might not seem worth noting except it’s the third film my wife has seen in a theater since our son was born. And now that we live in a small mountain town, going anywhere at night causes you to experience an inky blackness which is simply impossible in a big city. It’s easy to drive through downtown Dallas and never realize your lights are off. In Park City you can’t leave the parking lot.
This true darkness provides the perfect opportunity for items in the road to come up by surprise. And surprises always bring about unintended responses. So this night provided a great lesson in the power of inflection.
Suddenly on the side of the road stood a rabbit. In the seconds that followed I only uttered the following.
Big Rabbit. Big Rabbit. Big Rabbit.
However, the experience and the inflection turned each utterance into a very specific intention.
As it appeared on the side of the road: “Big Rabbit.” The tone translated as… Oh look, that’s a surprise.
As we got closer and it was revealed as a huge white jack rabbit, much larger than a house cat: A second – “Big Rabbit.” The tone translated as… oh wow, that is one enormous rabbit.
As it ran out into the road in a sudden case of rodent suicide, and I manhandled the car to avoid converting it into a hood-ornament: The third – “Big Rabbit.” The tone translated as… Shit. Stupid creature. I knew it was going to do that, hang on!
All the same words. All in under 10 seconds. And my wife understood exactly what I meant. Leaving me marveling once again at the oddities of the English language and the power of tone.
Plus the fact that my wife understood perfectly and we can now say “Big Rabbit” to each other and laugh.