Sounds canned?

中国日报网 2016-12-09 13:19



Sounds canned?Reader question:

Please explain “sounds canned” in this sentence: Prepare your story in advance, and have the key parts memorized (though not word for word, so that it sounds canned).

My comments:

If this is part of an advice to someone on a job interview, the advice is: be prepared but not in such a way that you sound less genuine when you pronounce your words, as though you were reading a script.

Canned, you see, originally refers to something put in a can, as in a can of beer or coke or orange juice. Cans are made of metal and are tightly sealed. Things put in cans last longer.

The biggest characteristic of canned food or drink, though, is that they are mass produced, such as Coca Cola cans – we see them in every supermarket or grocery store. All cans of the same product look identical. In fact, they look exactly the same.

Taste the same, too, needless to say. And not so refreshing if you’ve been having it for a long time.

That’s the thing with people who sound canned. They’re not interesting or effective any more if we hear them say the same thing again and again. Since you have memorized your words by heart and perhaps have even read them aloud dozens of times for practice, when you actually speak in front of the interviewer, you may sound like you’re reciting the words like an actor reading a manuscript in front of an audience in theater.

That way, you may sound insincere.

Here’s a good example of sounding canned and insincere. If you watch a comedian do a talk show routine on TV, you hear sounds of laughter from the audience now and then but after a while you realize the laughers are replays of pre-recorded laughing sounds. The laughers all sound similar and sometimes come out even after the comedian says something that’s decidedly not funny.

That type of laughter has its name: canned laughter or sounds of laughter that are pre-recorded and replayed at will.

And, after a while, they begin to put people off because they don’t sound natural.

Got it?

All right, here are media examples of situations where people appear canned:

1. On a bright Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, Taylor Swift is on good behavior, as usual. In high school, she had a 4.0 average; when she was home-schooled during her junior and senior years, she finished both years of course work in 12 months. She has never changed her hair color, won't engage in any remotely dangerous type of physical activity and bites her nails to the quick. At 19 years old, she says she has never had a cigarette. She says she has never had a drop of alcohol. “I have no interest in drinking,” she says, her blue eyes focused and intent beneath kohl liner and liberally applied eye shadow. “I always want to be responsible for the things I say and do.” Then she adds, “Also, I would have a problem lying to my parents about that.”


Newly emboldened, Swift began to perform the national anthem at local sports games, and even landed a gig with her favorite team, the Philadelphia 76ers. But tragedy soon befell our young songstress. It seems that her classmates did not agree that country music was cool. “Anything that makes you different in middle school makes you weird,” she says. “My friends turned into the girls who would stand in the corner and make fun of me.” She was abandoned at the lunch table. She was accused of possessing frizzy hair. She tried to fit in by joining teams but proved to be horrible at every sport. Then redemption came in the form of a 12-string guitar. “When I picked up the guitar, I could not stop,” she says. “I would literally play until my fingers bled — my mom had to tape them up, and you can imagine how popular that made me: ‘Look at her fingers, so weird.’” She takes a deep breath. “But for the first time, I could sit in class and those girls could say anything they wanted about me, because after school I was going to go home and write a song about it.”

This is Swift’s tale of triumph, and she likes to tell it a lot when she’s interviewed. It sounds canned, in a way — who hasn’t been made fun of in middle school? — but she’s managed to keep the feelings raw, and access to them is part of her appeal.

- The Very Pink, Very Perfect Life of Taylor Swift,, March 5, 2009.

2. In 1994, Jeff Connaughton, an Alabamian who had moved to Washington in the hope of dedicating his life to public service, attended a fund-raiser for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend at Hickory Hill, the Kennedy family manor in McLean, Virginia. During the party, Connaughton slipped into the study, where he discovered a bound volume of Robert F. Kennedy’s notes, including handwritten drafts of speeches. Connaughton’s eyes fell on a sentence that read “We should do better.” Kennedy had crossed out “should” and replaced it with “must.” Connaughton, a conservative Democrat, was moved. This was his core idea of politics: great speeches, historic figures, a common purpose. In the annals of Washington, Connaughton was that overlooked yet necessary thing—not a leader but a follower. He later said of himself, “I am the perfect No. 2 guy.”

For years, the man whose No. 2 he wanted to be was Joe Biden. In 1979, Connaughton was a business major at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, and the head of a nonpartisan student group that invited Biden—then a thirty-six-year-old senator from Delaware, in his second term—to give a speech on campus. Connaughton was short, smart, and sandy-haired, with the inferiority complex that’s bred into boys from Alabama. Biden arrived looking trim and confident in his tailored suit and expensive tie.

As Connaughton later wrote, two hundred people assembled in a lecture hall to hear the speech. “I know you’re all here tonight because you’ve heard what a great man I am,” Biden began. “Yep, I’m widely known as what they call ‘Presidential timber.’ “The crowd laughed nervously, thrown by his sense of humor. “Why, just earlier tonight, I spoke to a group of students who had put up a great big sign, ‘Welcome Senator Biden.’ And then when I walked under the sign I heard someone say, ‘That must be Senator Bidden.’ “The laughter rose.

Now Biden had the crowd, and he turned to his subject: the proposed Salt II arms treaty. He spent ninety minutes arguing lucidly, without notes, in favor of reducing the American and Soviet nuclear arsenals. A day earlier, the treaty’s prospects had suffered a blow with the supposed revelation of a brigade of Soviet troops in Cuba. “Folks, I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” Biden whispered, and the audience leaned in to hear. “Those troops have been in Cuba all along!” he shouted. “And everyone knows it!” At the end of the speech, the applause was loud and long. When Connaughton got up to approach Biden and thank him, he accidentally started a standing ovation.

A campus security guard drove Biden to the Birmingham airport, and Connaughton went along. Biden looked tired from his speech, but he answered the security guard’s questions (“What’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?”) as attentively as if they had come from David Brinkley. When Connaughton asked Biden why he rode the train from Wilmington to Washington every day, the Senator shared the story of the car accident that had nearly wiped out his young family, in December, 1972, a month after his election to the Senate. “My wife and baby girl were killed,” Biden said. “And my sons were badly injured. So I stayed with my sons at the hospital. I really didn’t want to be a senator. Eventually, I was sworn in at the bedside of one of my sons. I served, but I went home every night to be with my sons. And, over the years, Delaware just got used to having me home every day, so I really can’t ever move to Washington.”

Here was tragedy, here was energy, here was oratory—just like the Kennedys. When they arrived at the airport, Connaughton produced a spiral notebook, and Biden signed it: “Please stay involved in politics. We need you all.” At that moment, Connaughton felt certain that he would end up following this man to the White House.

Before graduating, he invited Biden to Alabama twice more for speeches. The last time that he dropped Biden off at the Birmingham airport, he made a promise: “If you ever run for President, I’m going to be there.”

Connaughton didn’t immediately head to Washington. First, he went to the University of Chicago business school. (Biden had written a letter of recommendation.) It was 1981, and Time ran an article, called “The Money Chase,” about the vogue for M.B.A.s; the cover image showed a graduating student whose mortarboard had a tassel made of dollars. Connaughton, the son of a government engineer and a homemaker, had never had money, and Wall Street’s allure was almost as strong as that of the White House.

For two years, he worked at Smith Barney—first in Manhattan, then in Chicago. In 1985, missing the South, he passed up a large bonus and joined the E. F. Hutton office in Atlanta. Several months later, the firm pleaded guilty to two thousand counts of wire and mail fraud. In Washington, Joe Biden, who was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, began talking on TV about the epidemic of white-collar crime on Wall Street and the failure of the Reagan Justice Department to police it. In a speech at N.Y.U., Biden said, “People believe that our system of law and those who manage it have failed, and may not even have tried, to deal effectively with unethical and possibly illegal misconduct in high places.” He was getting set for the big race.

The guilty plea cost E. F. Hutton business and began hollowing out the firm, but Connaughton survived. He worked in the public-finance department, specializing in underwriting tax-exempt bonds issued by state and local governments. One day, he came up with a marketable idea: in Florida, many towns and counties had huge pension liabilities, so why not arbitrage them? Create a fifty-million-dollar pension bond, borrow at four per cent, then invest the tax-free money for a few years, at six or seven per cent. “It was a kind of scam on the U.S. taxpayer,” he said later. But his boss was pleased.

At twenty-seven, Connaughton was an assistant vice-president, making more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, but this was not what he wanted to do with his life. By the end of 1986, it seemed clear that Biden would run for President in 1988. Connaughton knew an E. F. Hutton lobbyist who had connections to the campaign, and he got a job as a junior staffer, at twenty-four thousand dollars a year. No longer able to afford the lease payments on his new Peugeot, he traded it for his parents’ 1976 Chevy Malibu. As Connaughton recalled, “I had done Wall Street, and I was going to do the White House next.”

Connaughton’s first assignment was to find twenty people in Georgia to write the campaign a two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar check. After amassing that level of support in twenty states, a candidate qualified for federal matching funds. It was one of the hardest things that Connaughton had ever done, but the fear of failing spurred him, and he begged everyone he knew in Georgia to write a check. He succeeded in getting twenty people, and he learned something about fund-raising: you didn’t have to convince anyone that Biden was going to win, or even that he was right on the issues—only that you needed this, as a favor.

In March, 1987, Connaughton started working at the Biden campaign headquarters, in a downscale office complex outside Wilmington. Having done well in Georgia, he was going to be a fund-raiser. Although it wasn’t what he’d imagined the night he met Biden in Tuscaloosa, he said, “Just tell me where to go.” He began working twelve-hour days.

Biden, meanwhile, was giving one stump speech after another. Connaughton felt that Biden’s words were stirring but superficial. He always brought the house down with the line “Just because our political heroes were murdered does not mean that the dream does not still live, buried deep in our broken hearts.” Connaughton disliked the allusion to the Kennedys, which seemed canned. He wanted Biden to give more substantive speeches, like the old Salt II lecture.


Connaughton’s Senate job ended in the middle of the month. He flew to Costa Rica and went on an eight-hour hike. When he returned to his hotel room, he took a long shower, letting the water soak him and soak him until he felt clean.

Connaughton wanted to live in the South again, near the ocean. In Savannah, Georgia, he bought a turreted Victorian near the pretty squares lined with live oaks and Spanish moss.

Savannah, beneath its quaint stylishness, had been hit hard by the crisis. In his neighborhood, there was a sign for a ten-thousand-square-foot house that had been marked down from three and a half million dollars to one and a half million. The guy who gave tours of historic Savannah was an unemployed mortgage banker. Soon after Connaughton’s arrival, his neighbors invited him to a monthly potluck gathering, where the host that month was a prosperous-looking man in his sixties, with holdings in real estate. A week later, the man killed himself—the rumor was that he’d got overextended.

Connaughton acquired a shelter dog, part chow and part golden retriever. Except for the dog, which he named Nellie, he was often alone. All but his closest Washington friends dropped away, as if he’d moved to the other side of the earth. As long as he had money, it would be easy to insulate himself from the country’s problems—to enjoy his life far from the morass of Washington, while America continued its slow decline. He could feel that temptation, and the other one, too—the itch of public service, the Biden itch. The desire to change things was still there.

He wanted to burn his ship so that he would never be able to succumb and sail back to his former life. With Nellie lying at his feet, he spent each morning writing a book about what had happened to Washington in his years there. It would be called “The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins.” It would say everything.

- WASHINGTON MAN, The New Yorker, October 29, 2012.

3. A police officer who suffered a head injury in a fall while chasing three teenage robbery suspects died from his injuries Sunday, police said.

Scranton Patrolman John Wilding died a day after falling some 15 feet after jumping a fence in pursuit of a trio of 17-year-olds now in custody, police chief Carl Graziano said.

Graziano asked the public to “keep Officer Wilding and his family in your prayers during this time of sorrow.”

Wilding, who leaves behind a wife and two children aged 3 and 7, is the first Scranton officer to die in the line of duty since Sgt. James Sable in 1986, according to information on a police memorial to fallen officers, The (Scranton) Times-Tribune reported.

Authorities said the pursuit began after officers trailed a suspected stolen sport utility vehicle, and three youths got out and fled at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday in West Scranton. Neighbor Rich Molnar was one of those awakened by the pursuit.

“The sirens first, and then the lights flashing, and the cops hollering, ‘Stop! Halt! Drop! Put up your hands!’” he said.

Graziano said a witness saw Wilding clear the fence, then fall.

About 200 people gathered Saturday night at a candlelight vigil for the officer outside Scranton police headquarters, near the memorial bearing the names of a dozen local officers who died in the line of duty.

The group sang “Amazing Grace” and shared their experiences of the young patrolman, who was said to enjoy policing so much he hated taking a day off.

Graziano called Wilding a model officer who never viewed a shift as work and did the job for his family and his community.

I know it sounds canned, when you say that about John Wilding it’s not,” he said.

Restaurant owner Charlie Davis said he would text Wilding information about problems and Wilding would pass along the messages even if he wasn’t on duty. When Davis heard that an officer had been hurt, a friend asked “Is that our guy?”

Tom Welby called Wilding “the type of guy you want to show up when you need a cop.”

- Police: Officer dies after fall during robbery arrest, AP, July 13, 2015.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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