How NOT to be like the nerdy scientist on The Simpsons?
May 10, 2014 11:21 AM   Subscribe

The recurrant scientist character has some distictive speech patterns. What do they reveal about his thought patterns?

I can't remember the scientist's name on the Simpsons but he was a tendency to jabber and "err" a lot. What's going on in his head to make him formulate sentences like that?

I think I recognise some of my own patterns in that caricature. It reminds me of the REM lyric "change the difference." Any advice on how to be a more coherent communicator?

Thanks for any advice.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't help with your speech patterns, but the character you're thinking of is Professor Frink who is slightly modeled after Jerry Lewis's Nutty Professor.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:30 AM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

None. Nothing. It's just a caricature on a cartoon, and, as Ufez Jones says, based on other caricatures of egg-heads in other pop-cultural works from the past 50 years or so.

This is the same as asking what Apu's fakey fake Indian accent has to do with the fact that he works at a convenience store. It's just a show. They're not real people. None of them actually even talk like that in real life, it's just 5-10 voice actors making up funny ways to talk.

I've never met an actual scientist or nerd of any kind who actually talked like that.
posted by Sara C. at 11:54 AM on May 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

They don't reveal anything about his thought patterns because he doesn't have any - he's a fictional character who's made up by several different writers over the course of many, many seasons.
posted by rtha at 12:00 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, Professor Frink is a fictional character without actual background thought processes, but there are also people (sometimes including me) who have similar, if less cartoony, speech patterns, at least sometimes (generally it's when I'm really excited about what I'm saying and find it really interesting and my mind starts racing and it's hard to organize my thoughts). For me the reason for this is often that there's a lot going on in my head and it's just really hard to get it all out in coherent words. This is compounded by feelings of awkwardness when I realize that something that is very important and interesting to me is not necessarily of interest to the people with whom I am speaking and I feel shy and anxious and start to say "um" and "er" and re-explain or jump to another aspect of the same topic in a way that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Something that helps me is to slow down a lot and really think about the words I am saying while looking at my audience (even if it's just one other person) to gauge their reactions. I take the time to pause instead of saying "um..." which means I am being more strategic about my word choice and has the bonus of making me sound thoughtful instead of flustered.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:07 PM on May 10, 2014

While I was in England there was frequent mentions of the oxbridge stutter which is an affectation picked up by students at oxford and cambridge with academic or diplomatic aspirations. I think it is meant to convey that they are thinking on their feet (signalling spontaneous off the cuff cleverness as opposed to mere thorough preparation). This was a huge cultural difference between academics from the Americas and G.B. because in America and Canada the stutterings are viewed negatively as reflecting a lack of fluency, nervousness or lack of preparation.

It reminded me of a First Nations friend who thought anybody (including me in that set) who spoke without a long initial pause was a dangerous idiot who would run into the bush before knowing what direction they were heading.

Also academics tend to hedge and qualify statements because they are more interested in accuracy and truth than persuasiveness. So they pretty much can't make simple assertions because the reality they deal in tends to be complicated.
posted by srboisvert at 12:48 PM on May 10, 2014 [16 favorites]

I fink (*wink*) that the character speaks that way to portray the fact that he has a lot of thoughts going his head that are not being expressed and he is struggling to filter it all down to something short and coherent. Which is a complicated way of saying he's very smart. I haven't really noticed this trend in reality though: some really smart people are well spoken, and some less so. I guess a smart person who isn't very well spoken, or who is talking about a topic they're less experienced with would be most likely to have the breaks and 'errr's while trying to pice it all together.

Probably the best cure for it is talking frequently so that your vocabulary and expressions are already all set up, and don't need to be created on the fly.
posted by brenton at 3:34 PM on May 10, 2014

How not to be like Professor Frink, though I don't know why anyone would want to no to.

You're not doing that speech pattern intentionally, it seems, and you're going to have to be intentional in order to counter-act it. There are ways to reduce the cognitive stammer that results in such disjointed speech. Consider the following:

1. Practice responding honestly when people ask about opinions or feelings. Sometimes we tend to overthink our answers to such questions because we want to control how others perceive us. Since we ultimately can't do that, it's better not to try too hard. If it's an answer you want to be sure is "right," you can either say "I'm not sure, and unfortunately I'm a bit busy at the moment. Can I get back to you on that?" or "Hmm, that's a good question. I need to think about that one."

2. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know" when you really don't know about something. Saying that relieves you of the tension involved in trying to maintain the appearance of knowing, so then you can venture an educated guess if you feel like.

3. When possible, try to focus more exclusively on the person or people you're talking to: when you try to do something that requires concentration while having a conversation, you're more likely to either make a mistake or zone in and out of attention to the person.

4. Practice meditation. Try it, and then keep doing it. Meditation has great power to clarify, and when things are clearer, there's less need to hesitate.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. I think the character talks that way because they want to make him behave like Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor, but the pattern is also meant to convey that he has a lot going on in his powerful mind and that he's not invested in seeming cool or collected.
posted by clockzero at 4:08 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suspect you are probably stressing over a problem that only exists in your imagination. Relax.

That being said, I've always had a bit of a stutter, but I don't do too badly with it. I remember some advice I heard on TV when I was a kid... If you have a tendency to stammer, slow down and think through what you are going to say before you say it. You don't need to formulate the entire sentence in your mind before you speak, but don't start talking without having a good idea of where you're going.

If you feel yourself getting bogged down in a sentence, like you keep endlessly backing up and starting again because you remembered something or you just realized what you were saying a second ago wasn't quite right, just take a breath, simplify the whole complicated mess down to one short sentence, and let it go. Don't fumble around trying to clarify, with the second thoughts and the additional info and the rambling and the flaven.

The Frink voice is also very phlegmy, he's really talking from the back of his throat. So, maybe consider singing lessons or a public speaking course, something to help you get a little more control over your voice. You can probably find lessons on that stuff on Youtube.

Finally, resist the urge to pepper your speech with the flavens and the glavens, and never end with a Hey LAAAAAAYDEE!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:24 AM on May 11, 2014

His name is Professor Frink after Simpsons writer John Frink. His appearance is modeled after same. The voice patterns are a reference to Jerry Lewis. Here's your plate of beans.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 6:07 AM on May 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

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