For most of his life logorrhoea was not a word that anyone would think of in association with Angus McWhorder. Not that he suffered from aphonia, logorrhoea’s antithesis, just that Angus was a dour, taciturn Aberdonian of the old school who followed the injunction of Ecclesiastes to ‘let thy words be few’.
On Sundays he attended the kirk and savoured the brooding company of his fellow dark-suited Presbyterians. Only in the singing of praise was his voice heard to pronounce longer strings of words – and to do so rather well. But as soon as the psalm was over he would revert to silence, a silence that outside the kirk was but occasionally interrupted by monosyllabic sentences.
This was his way, and had been for as long as anyone could remember. Among his acquaintances from the kirk his manner was approved and appreciated. He was a man whose Yea was Yea and whose Nay was Nay and nothing more was necessary. Among his family… well, Angus had no family. No one but his daughter in America.
At 22, plump and pretty Doreen McWhorder had married an engineer, a Texan who had come to Aberdeen to help build the first pipelines and the refinery at Grangemouth. David Anderson was tall and gangling and talked far too much in a drawl Angus thought indicative of lazy tongue. The marriage was a blow to her father, but Doreen’s husband was a good Christian and at least he had a Scottish name. (David’s forebears were from Norway and the family name originally Anderssen, but Doreen and David saw no need to share this with Angus.)
Then, aged 25 and pregnant with her second child, Doreen followed her husband when he left Scotland for the next oil frontier. For years Angus held Doreen responsible for her mother’s untimely death, choosing to ignore his wife’s congenital heart condition that medical science regarded as the true culprit.
You broke her heart, Angus would say flatly. And Doreen was sufficiently her father’s daughter to feel he had a point.
Thirty years later Doreen was long settled in Florida, David was out of the picture, her children were grown and the next generation coming along. Her visits ‘home’ to Aberdeen had become less and less frequent, but her invitations to her father to pay a visit across the Atlantic came with the regularity of Christmas and birthday cards. And eventually, after toying with the idea for some years before considering it seriously for a few more, Angus decided to go.
Initially he found Florida too hot, too sunny, too busy and too loud. His natural expression of disapproval set more firmly on his face. The corners of his mouth turned down fractionally more. His nostrils flared and his nose hairs protruded more blackly.
Attending his daughter’s church that first Sunday was a disturbing experience. People talked – they were encouraged to talk – out loud and at length. They read the Bible as though experiencing it for the first time, they were charged with fervour, they shook, they exclaimed, they praised the Lord. It was all very different from back home.
Every time she looked at her father’s face, and the deep wrinkles of displeasure, Doreen’s heart sank a little more. Eight more weeks, she thought. Jesus give me strength!
Then something changed. What caused it was hard to say, but Angus found his voice.
It did not happen overnight. On that first Sunday, though he stood, hands in the air, to pray with everyone else, his lips did not move. But on his second visit he found himself joining the prayers, sotto voce, and when the psalms were sung he allowed his voice to swell. After the service several of those around, complete strangers, congratulated him on his voice and Doreen saw the severe lines about his mouth relax a little.
On his third visit Angus went up to the front of the church and accepted Jesus. Invited to testify, he found the words to speak for two minutes without pause – quite possibly the longest speech of his life at that point. No one but Doreen really understood what he said, but it did not matter. The church was enthusiastic about glossolalia and everyone other than Doreen assumed Angus was speaking in tongues.
Afterwards, the children started calling Angus ‘Willie’ and asking if he would be coming to work at their school. Angus, who did not watch television, had no idea why, but was charmed even so.
Now, suddenly, as if to make up for 70 years of Scottish reticence in a few short weeks, Angus went into overdrive. With his accent, his logorrhoea, his glossolalia and his Christian faith, he was the sensation of the season. He discovered a pleasure in standing to speak not just for the congregation of Doreen’s church, but also for any other that invited him. It didn’t even have to be a Sunday. Slightly bemused, but happy for her father, Doreen was his chauffeur from one charismatic Pentecostal church to the next.
For his audiences Angus would recite whole books from the Bible in a Lallans/Gaelic cross of his own devising. Words poured from him, after a time even when he was not in front of an audience. Driving him, Doreen started to hear him muttering, rehearsing she decided.
As the date approached for his flight home, Angus discovered a new talent: tachylalia. His logorrhoea increased a s w o r d s p o u r e d f r o m h i s m o u t h i n a n e v e r e n d i n g s t r e a m. Now Doreen began to fear for him – would he speak so much he would forget to breathe? Might he asphyxiate himself? Was that even possible?
Possible or not, now Angus’s logorrhoea took yet another turn. On the very last day before he was due to fly home, tachylalia tripped him into apraxia: Nebuchadnezzar became Nedbuddhanazcar, Adhonay became Adonkey, Moabites became Noahbites.
It would not have troubled him or his audience so much if the twisted words had not seemed so impious. Who knows where this might have led – accusations of demonic possession were not impossible – but Angus’s visit was over and the taxi that would take him to the airport stood at the door.
On the plane, Angus found his logorrhoea passing through phases akin to dysprosody and dysarthria until his tongue fell mute. Since returning home, he has reverted to type. A silent man with no sign of the logorrhoea that made him briefly famous abroad.
Yet, just occasionally, a glass of whisky over the odds will stir up the embers and a gleam deep in Angus’s eyes tells you he is revisiting his months of logorrhoeac fame.
In Florida was the Word, he says. And the Word was spoken. A lot.
This piece started life as a series of tweets playing with ‘logorrhea’. I liked Angus and Doreen so much I let the tweets grow into this story. I suspect it may not yet be fully grown, but this is the state it’s in now. If you’re wondering, I rather think Angus suffered a minor stroke – a transient ischemic attack – which might explain both his logorrhea and apraxia, and the fact that nobody diagnosed it. But I’m not a medical expert and Angus is a fictional creation.