Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Christopher Hitchens, and Secret Superpowers of Stammerers

I'm a bit ashamed to say that prior to Christopher Hitchens' death, I don't think I had seen any of his interviews. I started YouTubing around the other day, and I was amazed at the videos I found. Regardless of whether you agree with his beliefs, it's clear that he was an amazingly vibrant intellectual mind and an incredibly skilled debater.

So I was also surprised to discover shortly into the first video that Christopher Hitchens was a stutterer!

As a stutterer myself, I possess the strange ability to spot other stutterers that non-stutterers usually can't. I remember once during university, a very prominent politician came to give a talk, and it was clear in her opening remarks that she was a "covert stammerer" (i.e., pauses and substitutes words, but doesn't repeat syllables). I asked my friends afterwards if they noticed anything strange about her speech, and no one did. I told them she was a stutterer, and they were quite surprised.

In any case, since Christopher Hitchens was also one of the most fearsome debating powers in the world, I questioned my secret superpower, and decided to leave it to the Google. A quick search for "Christopher Hitchens stutterer" leads to a New Yorker profile that mentions how he used to have a "severe stutter", but overcame it via massive amounts of public speaking and debating. "Overcame" is somewhat of a misnomer here, as it never really went away, but needless to say, he was an unbelievably skilled speaker.

Which I suppose just goes to show you that communication involves far more than mere fluency of speech rhythm.

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