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An Anecdote

So we're sitting around a table and we're getting into our small dialogues (the group-wide chatter having fragmented into more exclusive debates and anecdotes), and I find myself in a small 4-way in which the topic seems to be the perils of phoning technical support. I have mentally rehearsed and cached my own narcissistic little spiel about my experience with Orange tech support in case the conversation dies but for the time being there seems no danger of that, because this guy has the floor. In fact really it's more of a 3-way because his girlfriend is a quiet lass anyway, and she seems content to just watch him in admiration. She is one of the core members of the group of which I am a relatively peripheral member. They're a slightly geeky little crew who gelled in 6th form around the time that I was just discovering my confidence and expressing it by entertaining a small crew of my own while alienating myself from the wider student population through righteous and unrepentant geekery and a cessation of tolerance for the victimisation I suffered in highschool. Latterly though I found myself an adjunct member of this group with whom I now share a table. Naturally I'm still fairly cautious of my deportment and the boyfriend speaking is keen to establish rapport with me, he being the newest addition to the group.

Anyway, during the above explanation, the other (as yet unmentioned) listener had overheard something interesting in an adjacent group and had diverted his attention thereto. That leaves two. As a youth I could scarce listen to six words without interrupting to expound my own opinions on the matter, but as a young adult I had committed to listen while people were speaking and not interrupt, and so doing my lecturer continued deep into his anecdote becoming increasingly animated as he went. This was fine, he was entertaining enough and I was nodding and expressing brief concurring sentiments. But alas, once his anxiety had worn off he missed the turning for 'relaxing, familiar conversation', and carried on at great speed towards 'unrestrained, overexcited blustering'.

He was now acting out parts of a phone call to tech support regarding some laptop, holding thumb and pinky in mime of a phone and with great gusto regailing me with his witty and supercilious replies to the foolish questions of his hapless victim, delivered with great slapstick pauses, luxurious gesticulations and endlessly returning to the same manic, conspirational grin. All the while I was becoming increasingly aware that the rest of the little groups were merging again, and I didn't like the idea of being locked in receipt of this dull and awkward little monologue. The guy's girlfriend was also keen for him to shut up and join the gang again lest he isolate himself from the group. Together we steered his attention back into the mix, and though we did so tactfully, there was still an unavoidable awkwardness as he realised he'd been assuming greater familiarity than was comfortably welcome and had slightly damaged his social standing in the dynamic of the group. Luckily it was only a minor mistake and being a group used to the occasional awkwardness of geek communication (from one side or the other) it was immediately forgotten and the evening continued most pleasantly.

The problem

However, there was a definite awkwardness during this little event. A moment of pain which the speaker and his friends might later look back on with embarrassment. Fact is, we didn't dislike the guy, we certainly didn't wish him any discomfort, and if we could have done or said something to have saved him from it we would have done, but alas he, the speaker, accidentally created this awkward situation, and we the friends had no tools with which to harmlessly dismiss it.

Another brief anecdote will further explain the issue:

Another friend and I (childhood friends but adults at the time of this story) spontaneously went for a swim at the local pool. We were having a little competition seeing how many dives we could do in a minute - ie dive in, scramble to edge, clamber out, dive in... - anyway I was timing, he was diving; Returning my gaze from the clock to watch his form (and check he wasn't just bombing) I was surprised to observe that his dick was hanging out his shorts.

"Dude!" I hissed, "Your dick is hanging out!".

"Shit!" he said, and then he put his dick back in his shorts. We had a good laugh about it, attacking the adventure from numerous angles, such as the size of his equipment, and his doubtless inappropriate intentions towards the abundant population of teenage girls at the pool.

But what would have happened if there was no way to tell him? What if I had no way to draw his attention to his exposure? He would have found out eventually, but I very much doubt he would have found it quite so funny so soon.

Here's the thing: Very few people make the art of communication their principle subject of study, most have other disciplines to occupy their attention. Now for the most part, we still manage to spend enough time communicating with people to be able to pull off a passing semblance of normality when so called upon. We know how to engage in banter with most of the kinds of humans we are likely to come into contact with. We can make idle chit-chat with strangers, take part in a professional debate with colleagues, and we often find great pleasure in discussing things with friends. But be warned, gentle reader - there is a beartrap in the ball-pool! Dive too deep and you may spring it!

For how many of us have at some point met someone somewhere, struck up conversation, discovered that this person is really cool and is interested in something we are passionate about, whereupon we have talked at great length only to suddenly realise that we are making the listener, ourselves and possibly some bystanders awkward with our enthusiasm?

We geeks are especially prone to this because all that extra time learning arcane programming languages, tuning engines, discovering species or solving equations is time we haven't spent talking to people and learning how to socialise with dignity and grace.

But so what? We all know we make these little mistakes - carry the metaphor too far, do one too many impersonations, gesticulate a little too wildly, enact a hypothetical comical scene when the punchline has already been well received - and amongst friends we certainly wish no ill, we don't need that awkward pause, nobody needs to learn they've gone too far, do they?

A solution

The obvious solution is to acknowledge the problem, say oops, I just went too far, observe the reaction and release the tension by saying sorry got a little carried away there. But how? What is the correct term for this phenomenon? What do you call it when this happens? When you've gone beyond the telling of the punchline into the acting out of the moment the punchline describes? Is there a word for it?

Yes there is. Or at least, there is now. And the word, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and anyone else to whom that description does not apply (snort, guffaw), the word ...is Thop.

What? What's wrong with it? It's as good a word as any isn't it?

Ok, I have a confession to make. If you look up "thop" in your dictionary you won't find anything. Not yet anyway. That's because thop is not widely known as the word describing the aforementioned phenomenon. Yet.

Wait, I have further confessions. It is not even a peculiar regional affectation of the midlands, it's not local to my town, or even especially common within my circle of friends. Yes I'm afraid so. I made it up. Well look, words have to come from somewhere ok? I mean, how do you think 'sheep' was received? Do you think that when Ug came to Og and said 'bor bam gub gub sheep hob nibbur tef?' Og just went 'yam sheep... sheep fuff tob gub gub tef boo!'? I very much doubt it! There was probably some significant resistance to Ug just making up words, it probably took a fair amount of forward thinking on the part of Og et al to come to accept sheep as an appropriate part of the argricultural nomenclature of the day.

Reader, I am asking you to withhold judgement for a while, to wait until such time as you next thop or someone near you thops and then ask yourself: "does identifying this phenomenon as thopping enrich my life?". You might try it out, in fact I implore you to do so. "Ooh... thopping there a bit Geoff" you might say, whereupon Geoff might enquire of you: "Thopping Bradley? Have you finally flipped your biscuit?", and thus you might come to explain this new term to your friends, your family, those close to you. At first there will be nay sayers, "nay" they will say, "what sorcery is this?" and they will curse you, and criticise your clothing, but gradually word will spread, and in time you will be rewarded for your progressive attitude with that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from helping a language, if not a culture to evolve.

And so my friends, here we stand, at the dawn of the third millenium; who can say what wonders await us? Will we survive our own violent impulses? Will we travel to the stars? Will our stories be told in distant lands by strange and mysterious travellers? Will we ever discover our destiny, our place in this great and beautiful universe of ours? I dare not speculate, my friends. But I will say this: With the right attitude I believe we can make it, I believe we have it in us to prosper beyond our wildest dreams. And I believe that in just a few years, when sitting in the pub listening to a mate tell a small group of friends the anecdote about when he spilled some guy's pint in his lap and as the laughter peaks you enthusiastically act out the guy getting an unexpected lapful of beer, causing sudden awkwardness and inward cringing, you will be able to confidently invoke a little self-deprecation: "Woops, pardon me thopping all over the place there", and the ice will be broken, and the awkward polite laughter will be replaced by a peal of genuine giggles, and so you will be closer friends, happier, and the world will be a slightly friendlier place, and maybe, just maybe, that gargantuan war in which we barbarically murder half our fellow humans and destroy the ecosystem of the Earth, forever dooming the remaining dregs of mankind to live out the last of their cancerous days in appauling misery, will instead be replaced with the 2083 Festival of Bunny Rabbits and Smiling. I believe it! Sing with me!

All you need is love! - la la-lalala...


Thop (?) v. i. [imp. & p. p. Thopped (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Thopping.]

1.

To exceed the bounds of dignified conversation by way of excessively enthusiastic affirmatory behaviour, breaking out of the cycle of positive feedback that creates rapport, creating momentary awkwardness and disrupting the flow of communication.

Whoah, bit heavy with the thopping there dude!

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