The Friday Fillip: Mumbling

Mumbling covers a lot of sins. When you’re abashed or ill-prepared or simply your usual fifteen minutes away from l’esprit d’escalier, mumbling could be the way to go. Broca’s area has lost contact with ground control, yet utterance is obligatory: dive! dive! dive! And from somewhere deep in the reptilian part of your think gel come noises that sound so close to speech that some of the people some of the time can be fooled.

Lawyers don’t get to mumble much, though. For one thing, it doesn’t work very well in print (which is not to say it’s impossible) and then there’s the fact that clients and partners alike tend to frown on it. This denial of recourse to mumbling puts a great deal of pressure on lawyers, who as a result must never be ill-prepared or, indeed, caught out in any way and who must always have their wits within easy reach, however few of them there may be.

Some others, however, have learned to profit from mumbling. Lyrics of songs are notoriously hard to understand, and as a result in some cases performers have not bothered with the effort of using real words. Case in point: Piero Umilliani’s Mah Na Mah Na

And mumbling has the wonderful virtue of being a world-wide lingua franca — no need to translate from Korean to German, from English to French, etc. So long as actions speak loudly as words, you’re home free. This is the genius of shows like Pingu, the children’s program where penguins and other creatures burble and squeak at each other in all languages and none. Mr. Bean, the glorious creation of Rowan Atkinson, plays as well in Chile as he does in Chad thanks to the barest minimum of speech and some effective muttering.

Which is why I feel comfortable offering you French Roast, a French, eight-minute, animated film as the main feature today. You’ve no need to understand spoken French: what little there is is . . . well, mumbled. The action is all in the images, which are wonderfully drawn. Enjoy. (Pro tips: 1. use the full screen option, which is right before the Vimeo name; 2. stay for the pigeon beneath the credits at the end — oh, and the mumbling background singers.)


  1. When in doubt – mumble.