You – hey you, yes you, reading this blog – what are you doing with your tongue? Are you sure that you are not unconsciously, as you thread your way through the thickets of my unneccesarily complicated syntax, sticking it out, or even wiggling it around? Are you absolutely certain?
I ask, not because I want a whole lot of really wierd comments, but because of the guy on the train this morning. There he was respectably dressed, sitting in one of the seats across the aisle from me, working his way through a document, making the occasional note, and every time he took up his pen to write something, out came his tongue and started wriggling from side to side. As soon as he stopped writing, the tongue went away again. Then he’d see another point he wanted to make, uncap his pen, pause for a minute and start scribbling, little pink tongue-tip wagging as he went. Sometimes he would go whole pages at a time without feeling the need to annotate while I tried increasingly unsuccessfully to concentrate on my paper and not watch, fascinated, to see if it would happen again. Once he uncapped his pen, underlined something, and put it away without the tongue appearing but then he added a sudden afterthought and out the tongue came at last with an additional flourish.
It became, in a strange and unsettling way, rather compelling. Every time I saw the pen poise to strike, I had to look to see if the tongue came out with it. I ended up surveying him discreetly via the reflections in the window so I didn’t draw attention to myself. He was obviously completely unaware of this strange habit and I didn’t want to be the one that let him know.
But then I wondered whether he really was so strange. Little kids don’t seem to be able to concentrate at all without their tongues sticking out, it’s just that most of us have learned to keep ours under control. Or so we think. But the whole point about these unconscious mannerisms is that we do them when we’re so absorbed in the task we don’t know what we’re doing. So maybe we’re all at it, it’s just nobody’s yet been rude enough to comment…