What do you really mean by that?

By Mike Jiggens, Special to Delhi News-Record

Have you ever noticed while watching a sporting event on television or  perhaps a show such as Sports Centre, and a young hockey player or  other athlete is being interviewed, and the first two words out of his  mouth following virtually every question are, “I mean...?”

The interviewer may ask, “How do you account for your team’s current winning streak?”

And the athlete responds, “I mean...we’re really focused on making the  playoffs so we’re all giving a 110% effort.”

“So what are you doing mentally to maintain this focus?”

“I mean...we’re taking it one shift at a time and going all out, and  everyone knows we can’t afford to make any mistakes.”

What is it with the “I mean...” part of the response? It doesn’t add anything of value to the answer and, frankly, its inclusion as the  prologue to the response makes no real sense. It’s also quite annoying  to have to listen to.

I’ve noticed this is more of an issue with younger athletes than with  seasoned veterans. It almost drove me crazy in late December when  members of Team Canada were interviewed between periods during the  World Junior Hockey Championships. Just about every response from the  questions asked of them began with the words, “I mean.”

I’m not sure if any of these up-and-coming athletes undergo any type  of media relations training or not, but it would be in their best  interests to do so. They come across as almost robotic when the first  two words uttered are almost always “I mean.”

More recently I’ve noticed the “I mean” syndrome isn’t confined to just the younger set. There is a television commercial for a pain relief cream which features Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr endorsing  the product. In it, he says, “I mean...it’s been wonderful.”

I’m hoping this isn’t being taught as standard fare in high school  English classes.

But if you’re so inclined, you can make the most out of this awkward  form of communication. For example, there are several drinking games  based on the number of times a popular television character might  utter his trademark catchphrase. Friends could get together on a  Friday night to watch Sports Centre and swig one back each time they  hear, “I mean...” I’m not an advocate of drinking games, mind you, but  you certainly wouldn’t go thirsty following an hour of Sports Centre.  You might also want to arrange for a ride home from someone who didn’t  play the game because you’re probably going to hear a couple dozen “I  means” during the telecast.

Seriously, though, ever since those World Junior Hockey Championships,  I find myself actually anticipating the words “I mean” whenever I hear  anyone interviewed on a sports broadcast. I’m sure I heard those words  countless times prior to that tournament, but they didn’t begin to  register with me until then. Now it has become almost an obsession of  mine to predict and expect it each time a sporting event comes on TV.

I mean...it’s driving me nuts.


Mike Jiggens is a Delhi resident. His column appears regularly in the Delhi News-Record

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