1

There was the following passage in the New York Times (May 14) article under the title, “Wow, Jeb Bush is awful”:

The bottom line is that so far he seems to be a terrible candidate. He couldn’t keep his “I’m-my-own-man” mantra going through the spring. He over-babbled at a private gathering. He didn’t know how to answer the Iraq question, which should have been the first thing he tackled on the first day he ever considered that he might someday think for even a minute about running for president.

I understand “over+babble” means “speak too much.” or “give hot air.” Am I right?

I can’t find the word in English dictionaries at hands, nor through google search.

Is it a common word being spoken in day-to-day conversation? Can I reprove my colleague who over-babbles in the meeting by saying “Don’t over-babble”?

  • 3
    You don't need to look in a dictionary for the specific word overbabble (hyphenated or not). All you need to know is that to over [-] [verb] is a "productive" construction in English, for almost any "action" verb where it's possible to quantify how much (for how long, how devotedly, etc.) the action is performed. When it comes to English, you should seek knowledge and understanding, but not over-seek it. – FumbleFingers May 15 '15 at 0:45
  • 2
    It's not a common expression, but it can be readily understood by most readers. Nothing more is required. – Hot Licks May 15 '15 at 0:50
  • @Hot Licks: Certainly not "common", but sufficiently credible that I wasn't surprised to find an instance by Julia Kent, "New York Times Bestselling Author" in Google Books. She will invade my apartment and respect boundaries about as well as Vladimir Putin and chime a wine glass to get me to kiss a billionaire client and overbabble about her sex life with Dad, but by God, she's got my back. I never used the word before, but if I did, I wouldn't bother hyphenating it. – FumbleFingers May 15 '15 at 0:56
2

I've never actually heard anyone say that in real life.

The word babble already implies talking too much. To me, the word over-babble sounds a little redundant and pretentious. If you have a colleague who is talking too much in a meeting, I would simply say "stop babbling." This would be extremely rude, for the record.

I think their use of over-babbled here is trying to take advantage of one of babble's definitions meaning to divulge something private or say something stupid. By over-babbling, not only did he talk about things he should not have been, but he also talked too much. It puts the emphasis on the fact that what was being said was long-winded and was also nonsensical or unwise.

| improve this answer | |
1

No, it is just Gail Collins being Gail Collins.

"Babble" literally means to talk senselessly, but it's often used to describe someone who is talking too much (and not making a lot of sense) because he is nervous or anxious.

By prefixing the word with "over-" Collins might mean that he babbled so loudly that some other speech could not be heard, that he babbled more than some limit, or (and I am reaching now) that he babbled more than the situation required.

Ironic that a professional writer cannot make herself clear, in a purportedly edited column, when criticizing the extemporaneous speech of another. (It is official New York Times policy that every male member of the Bush family is stupid and inarticulate.)

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I cannot accept the broad thrust of this answer that OP's cited usage is in any way defective, or that the writer "cannot make herself clear". It's normal English as used by an apparently perfectly competent speaker/writer. – FumbleFingers May 15 '15 at 0:48
  • @FumbleFingers - If you are certain, the writer can make herself clear, I have to ask: what was she trying to say? – Malvolio May 15 '15 at 4:40
  • I know nothing about Jeb Bush (or US pre-electoral procedures in general), so I'm not part of the target audience anyway. But wherever you see the to over [-] [verb] construction it's safe to assume the writer has something of a "Goldilocks" attitude to [verb] (i.e. - you can [verb] too much, too little, or just the right amount). ODE offers babble = foolish, incoherent, or excited talk, but I think their alternative empty rhetoric fits better here - it's easier to imagine an acceptable/desirable non-zero level of (empty) rhetoric in this context. – FumbleFingers May 15 '15 at 12:25
  • I think that the idea that a politician ought to be babbling at some level, while perfectly plausible, would be controversial enough that you shouldn't bury it in the construction of a nonce word. "At a private gathering, he babbled far beyond even the high level expected of a Republican politician." My point -- and I do have one -- is not that you are wrong, but that a writer who confuses even people who are reading closely should not be casting the first stone about "babbling". – Malvolio May 15 '15 at 16:58
  • The author clearly doesn't rate Jeb Bush very highly, and is being bitingly sarcastic to press the point home. But the primary purpose of text like this isn't to unambiguously communicate information in the sense I think you have in mind. It's to reinforce the pre-existing prejudices of the target readership (who quite likely are not very bright and/or aren't reading particularly "carefully"). It might well be the writer thinks they need the apparently superfluous over- prefix to make sure they know what to think. And for all I know, she might well be right. – FumbleFingers May 15 '15 at 21:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.