by Charles James

Fluent speech is taken for granted amongst the vast majority of the population. For a small group of stutterers numbering approximately 3 million in America, fluency escapes them. To Joe Q. Public the fluttering eyes, slightly reddened face, mildly distended neck veins; the repetitive rhythm of the repeated word or syllable is classified as a stutter. To my discerning eye however, the manifest bluster is a strategy to release captive words within. How the individual copes with the stutter allows me to classify them into one of three stuttering types, the faux stutterer, resigned stutterer and liberated stutterer.

The faux stutterer or "stutterer in remission" is an individual who through intensive speech and behaviour modification therapy, the subsequent bankrupting of his parents, has succeeded in subduing the stammering beast within him. With a newfound fluency the faux stutterer is able to gain admittance to the world of smooth speech.

Socially the faux stutterer is a perfect lothario with the stutter still occasionally manifesting itself in a form and at a level women find infinitely seductive and men fail to notice. A faux stuttering associate of mine, let's call him Brad, is proof of this phenomenon. Neither rich nor particularly good looking he succeeds in striking up conversation and captivating a woman's attention at most social events we've attended together. He confesses that it must be due to his manner of speech. His modus operandi is using the consonants that present the greatest verbal challenge to him like "ss" and "ff" to his best advantage. The conversation would flow as follows:

"Don't you find working with laboratory animals to be very sad?"(Brad works as a research assistant in an animal laboratory) asks the unsuspecting victim.

Fixing her with a steady eye he replies; "The sssss... the ssssss.saddest part is having to collect the ffffo..fofofood-bowls of the animals that have died." To the naove observer this effort to say the words with the pauses between attempts, can be interpreted as a man struggling with his emotions in dealing with the nature of his job. To the trained observer i.e. me, it's a ploy at ingratiation. The charm of the faux stutterer only works on the uninitiated.

In the company of other stutterers the faux stutterer is regarded as boorish, if claiming membership to this verbal elite in fluent tones. Verbosely advocating this or that method of cure for stuttering and holding himself up as an example of a "cured" stutterer is considered in poor taste amongst hardcore stuttering elitists. Leaving a most excellent birthday party one night I was accosted at the door by a faux stutterer who, for an hour proceeded to tell me of his experiences with stuttering. His lack of a stutterer's brevity with words automatically placed this advocate of freed speech on the very fringes of the stuttering elite and made me late getting home.

If the verbal libertarianism of the faux stutterer is at the fringes of the stuttering realm then the resigned stutterer must occupy centre stage. In defiance of all current treatment models this category of verbal abuser has at worst, failed to respond to treatment and at best seen a marginal abatement of his stutter.

The product of this clash of science and the spoken word is an introvert who is condemned to hiss, hum and contort his way through verbal interactions in public. More sensitive than other categories of stutterers to his own verbal discomfort and its effect on those around him, the resigned stutterer attempts to limit verbal intercourse in public to monosyllabic answers and only the most essential of enquiry. The intensity and severity of the stutter is of such a nature that the resigned stutterer would gladly sell his soul to the devil for an opportunity to end the affliction.

My initial encounter with a fellow stutterer afflicted with an intense fluency impediment, rendering him almost speechless is an example of this. I felt sorely tempted to do unto him what, I'm sure many people have been tempted to do to me and that is shaking the words out.

Blessedly for the resigned stutterer and his audience, the development of a sense of ease and comfort with the company around him, effectively decreases the intensity of his impediment and more flowing speech follows.

The resigned stutterer is a serious human being as he frets and struts upon life's stage always aware and watchful for the response to his blowing and excruciating silences. His antics and those of his audience, providing much mirth to the final category of stutterer, the liberated stutterer.

He is a knave to be sure, scornful of the fluent and aloof but sympathetic to the afflicted. His stutter has been integrated into his very being and is part of his identity, his persona. A life without stuttering would be one filled with mundane fluency.

In contrast to the resigned stutterer's shirking of public contact, the liberated stutterer is decidedly garrulous, actively seeking social contact. He is quite comfortable with his contorting and spitting in order to make his wishes known or to put his point across.

For him, a perverse pleasure is achieved by firstly watching his listener's expression of incredulity, then watching the discomfort dissolve into borderline panic.

As a self- proclaimed liberated stutterer my most memorable encounter occurred in Macys on 5th Avenue in New York. I wanted directions to the men's department and needed to know the time. Approaching a nearby shop assistant I fixed her with my best Colgate smile and started:

"EEEEEEE.EEEE.EEEEEExcuuuuuuse me Miss." (The tendency in my stuttering pattern, it must be explained is when starting with the letter "E" the pitch of my voice rises from a bass to an alto before a point is reached where I can pronounce the word.) "CouCouCouCouCouCouCou (By this stage a look of stark disbelief has filled the shop assistant's eyes) CouCouCou.. Could yyyyyyyou dididididididididirect me to (At this point she had the look of somebody who has just had a ferret dropped down her trousers. Disbelief mixed with real fear.) the mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm..memememememens department plplplplplplplplplease." She seemed to relax slightly and gave directions. Now for the time.

Asking for the time seemed to finish the poor lady off. She appeared absolutely horror- stricken, silently showed me the time on her watch and walked away visibly shaken. The entire interaction could have transpired in less than a minute even with my worst stutter. However her initial look of shock was so entertaining I had to prolong the experience.

Impaled on good manners and courtesy, the captive listener is subjected to a verbal lambasting and facial contortion while being silently challenged to break with social convention and display a hint of mirth. Dealing with impaired speech requires strategies to give life to words for the stutterer. As humorous as a stutter may be, a listener should be aware the amount of effort it has takes in the said.

The 3 million afflicted can take heart as we do have redeeming qualities that endear us to our slick-speaking brethren. Possibly due to our affliction we do, I feel make more sensitive listeners being aware of the feelings of our audience.

With the sensitivity comes above average intelligence and we, as stutterers are in illustrious company, able to claim Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin as our own.

The view of the fated 3 million stutterers' spasmodic verbal behaviour is merely our attempt to be heard and understood. An attempt to cast pearls before real swine.