do not step out
well, mumble
24/Mar/2005 | 14:06

"Well, the reason you can't get to the page is probably because the result of the SQL query isn't being stored as a variable, but I think it might be an if-statement problem, because if I'm actually pulling the data into that variable I was using, it would be outside that if-statement--"

Okay, stop. What you meant to say was this:

"Well, mumble, there may or may not be a database problem, and it's being worked on. I'll have a status for you shortly."

Substitute "shortly" for "whatever timetable you think you might be able to make and get away with".

To understand where "mumble" comes from, you have to picture how much information you, your co-workers, and your manager(s) process on a minute-to-minute basis. The equation looks like this:


If the amount of INFORMATION exceeds the TODAY value, there's no time to listen to what you have to say. If the other person has some time, but halfway through your explanation of why such-and-such is the way it is, you're going to lose the person's attention as you crawl deeper into the negatives.

What "mumble" does for you is give the person looking for an incentive to listen to every word you've said. After all, if I don't have enough attention span/time/patience to listen to your 1,000-word essay on the problem, you run the risk of me dropping the really important sentences without realizing it.

"Mumble"--no, you don't actually say it out loud, it's just a thought process--is your trick to boxing up the things-that-might-be-this-way-or-that-way and give the person exactly what you wanted them to understand and remember in the first place. In the example at the beginning of this article, you had lots of details about the situation, and walking away from the first version, you're saying to yourself, "I hope he remembers that we're not sure what the problem is just yet, but we're close, and we're going to be able to fix it soon." The problem, however, is that every set of commas you add to the answer just increases the amount of things people can pick and choose from to remember.

You said everything, but how much was actually absorbed?

Remember, in the English language, commas are delimiters for dependent clauses, and as such, a person can still construct entire sentences by removing some parts of sentences between commas, even if things turn out non-sensical.


Remember, commas are delimiters for dependent clauses, even if things turn out non-sensical.

Reduce what you mean down to what you mean, and that's exactly what the person to whom you're talking will take away.

Well, mumble, or something like that.