Pay to Say
They say talk is cheap, but it’s not: it’s free. Been amusing myself with this idea—what if you had to pay for every word you said or typed? And you had to budget for it and pre-pay, like, “They cut my hours at work this week; looks like I’ll be the quiet one at the party this weekend.” Or “Christmas bonus! Now I can finally afford to have “The Talk” with Junior.” If you went off on an unplanned rant, you’d get billed for it the next day, plus an overage fee. It’s fun to think about: if we had to drop coin for "free speech," what would each of us still pay to say?
What if there was a Free Word Day each month, the third Thursday (it’d be called “Thirdsday”), where words were free all day? Companies would plan their big strategy meetings for that day. “We’ll discuss that new idea you have on Thirdsday, Jones.” But then employees would mysteriously get sick on that day and call in, because they could seriously use Thirdsday to discuss the children’s school troubles with the spouse.
You could avoid talking with your chatty neighbor by using the now-universal shrug that says, “Sorry, out of words, try back later.”
Would people learn sign language to get around paying for the spoken word? Become experts at body signals and eyebrow raises? Faces would hit a level of dexterity that would scare animals and children. Couples would start to argue, and their Word Meter would beep: “red zone—low word count.” They’d switch to signing: “We’ll finish this on Thirdsday.” Then glower at each other in the kitchen and use food and portion sizes in such a way that the other knows exactly what they meant by that.
“Son, quit harassing the new kid at school, it’s costing me a fortune!”
Jobs that centered around communication would offer a word allowance as part of the job offer package. “To sweeten the deal, we’ll remind you that we offer 200,000 words a week—twice as many as our competitor! Any unused verbiage does roll over each month, which the other guys won’t offer. So whaddya say, Jones? Do we have a deal?” But if you got caught making personal calls on the company word dime, you had to pay it back. “Roberts! Are you calling home on your per diem?”
She shook her head and yanked her checkbook from her purse. “I was going to get a pedicure,” she said, scribbling furiously. “But this has to be said.”
“Put your money where your mouth is” would move from being an aphorism into an actual business transaction.
Would it create greater disparity between the haves and have-nots, since only the fat cats could afford to slick talk their way to the top? Or would the number of fat cats diminish because it was cost-prohibitive to invest in the amount of smooth talk it would take to charm your way to the top and stay large and in charge? Maybe the value system would change altogether, as people would begin to distrust the stratosphere of empty talk that could only be bought with obscene amounts of money to burn. Society would begin to value substance over empty words, work done by hand, services offered with a silent smile. If someone spoke, you knew it was important to them, because they were paying for it.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?”
“No dear, but I know it’s been a tight month.”
“One of these days, Lois. I’ll work hard and we’ll save up, and one day you’ll be able to say all the things you want! No one will be able to shut my girl up then!”
“Oh sweetheart—I love it when you talk wordy to me.”