Ah, over-stressing, that hallmark of poor acting and poor speaking which allows no potentially emotion-freighted word to pass unhammered. Like a less than able sportsman thrashing away at everything in the hope of hitting something, perpetrators stress, stress, and stress again in the belief that they will thereby increase the impact of what they are saying.

This can, as I have said, be frequently heard during Radio 4 drama. Sample: “You said you wanted to get married“, which is fine as a one-off sentence designed to convey strong emotion and not much else, but when it goes on and on feels a bit like being continually hit over the head with somebody else’s feelings.

It also has the unfortunate effect of obscuring meaning. In the example above, for instance, is it the “said”, the “wanted” or the “married” that is the point?  Consider the following: “Why on earth did you think I wanted to get married?” “You said you wanted to get married”; “I’ve never believed in marriage” “You said you wanted to get married”; and “I don’t see why we couldn’t just have lived together” “You said you wanted to get married“. Three different statements, three different responses.

Years ago I did a writing course with Tom Robinson, and he got us to do an exercise where he illustrated the importance of stressing words correctly by getting us to repeat the sentence “I saw you kissing her in the kitchen” aloud eight times, stressing each word in turn. Try it, it’s enlightening.

More tomorrow.