A Meditation on Answering Machines

This will require a little bit of context, and then for the rest of it, context won’t help you.


Okay. So. My family has a phone (1). And this phone, which is naturally cordless so we can afford to wander all over the house to get away from whoever’s washing up (2), has an answering machine built into the cradle. Now, when this is turned on, it proclaims “Ahnsar, awn” in the thickest American accent you will ever hear outside of cowboy spoofs and TV comedy hillbillies (3). You could probably play it in a backwater town somewhere in the Television Deep South where everyone is issued a banjo and a wedding to their preferred relative at puberty and they would comment on how absurdly thick it was.

And this is a problem, because I live in Australia.

Seriously. Assume for the moment that you ran a phone company and had to choose a voice to use for your answering machines. To make this simple, we will also assume you have never heard of speech synthesisers and that your company has heard of the world outside your state but has never seen it played (4). Who would you ask to record the answering machine on and off announcements?

a) The employee with the mildest accent, because it’s being distributed internationally.


b) The employee with the thickest accent, because you’re not sure whether this “Australia” place is in Europe or Africa (5).


Now this may come across as a little hostile, but I have no real quarrel with Americans if you overlook the obvious (6). I just don’t understand why someone thought an armour-piercing accent midway between Classical Brooklyn and a cartoon hillbilly frying a skunk was the ideal voice to give their answering machine.

Frankly, I would have been happier with “affirmative” and “negative” beeps. Beeps are nicely international. A beep from Britain sounds just like a beep from Brazil. Jersey beeps and Japanese beeps sound exactly alike.

I think it’s time to bring back the beep.

– OSM out.






  1. Very odd behaviour, I’m sure you’ll agree.
  2. Because, of course, there are only three times when people call: when you’re eating, when there’s a lot of noise about, and when everyone is quite a long way away from it or shut in their rooms listening to music. I’m serious, I’ve run the numbers and eighty percent of calls come at this time, it’s ridiculous. When I rule the world, phoning during dinner – especially if you’re a telemarketer – will be punished with a steam engine, a bucket of cod liver oil, and a walrus.
  3. “Oh, Ah’m a danger to mahself an’ others…”
  4. What, you’ve never heard Rachmaninov’s Rest of the World in C Flat? It’s a beautiful sound.
  5. Just in case the person responsible is reading this, the correct answer is C, none of the above.
  6. Specifically, that anyone ever voted for either Bush, the apparent allergy to the letter U, and their apparently unanimous decision that the 26th letter of the alphabet should be given an -ee sound when there were already too many. It’s “zed”, damn it.



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Filed under Randomness, Rants

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