How You Sound Really Matters

by Larry P. Johnson

(Editor’s Note: Larry Johnson is an author and motivational speaker. You may contact him via e-mail at or visit his website at
I absolutely love listening to how language is spoken — not just English, all languages. I like how they sound, especially when spoken correctly and clearly. Elocution, according to Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary, is the study of how to speak clearly and in a way that is effective and socially acceptable. Have you ever stopped and listened, I mean really listened, to how people talk?
Whatcha say? Gimmie a sec. Y’aren’t from here, right?
Is it any wonder that visitors to our country sometimes have a difficult time understanding us? Sloppy speech, the slurring of words together or dropping their endings, impairs the clarity of our message. I had a teacher in elementary school, Miss Baker, who would not countenance sloppy speech. She insisted that her students enunciate our words clearly. She had us memorize and recite numerous classic poems like “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” and famous speeches, like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, fragments of which, incredibly, I can still remember to this day. Miss Baker believed that developing good speaking skills would be a big asset for us in school as well as later in life.  And she was right.
How we sound is often more important than what we say. Job interviewers pay close attention to how applicants speak. Careless speech habits — using slang or sloppy speech — can actually reduce an applicant’s chances of landing that plum job. According to Lori Zelman, vice president of human resources at Strategic Workforce Solutions in New York City, “The people most highly sought after are the ones who are succinct in the explanation of their work experience.” That means speaking clearly and articulately.
In an article on, a global careers network website, Diane Diresta offers this advice to job seekers: “To avoid slurring and increase understanding, speak slowly during an interview. You don’t have to study elocution to speak well. Simply slow down, take time to pronounce all the syllables, and leave slang at home.”
I perked up my ears today to see what I could hear. And these are just a few of the shortcuts in speech which I heard:
“‘Sup?” (is short for What’s up?) 
“Lemmie splain.” (is short for Let me explain.)
“Bin there?” (Is short for Have you been there?)
“I know nuttin ‘bout that.” (Is short for I don’t know anything about that.)
“Whatcha wanna do today?” (is short for What do you want to do today?)
But my favorite of all is: “Jeet jet?” “Jeet” is the contracted form for “Did you eat?” and “jet” is a mispronunciation of “yet.” So, “Jeet jet?” is the short form for asking “Did you eat yet?” Simple, right?
The English language is indeed quite complex, but it is also very beautiful, especially when spoken correctly. It mirrors our nation, being an intricately rich and magnificent mosaic of many cultures and origins. Now there may be some folks who might want to take exception to my criticism of slurred or sloppy speech. ‘Sokay, I tell ‘em. It is what it is. And that’s how I see it.