My favorite Seinfeld episode by far is the one where Marlee Matlin is dating Jerry, and George enlists the famously deaf actress in lip-reading for him to find out the real reason why his girlfriend dumped him. Things quickly go south when Marlee misreads "sweeping together" as "sleeping together," which leads to hilarious moments of miscommunication.
Watching this episode, and rewatching it through the years, I've often been curious about misinterpretations that occur outside of spoken language. Lip readers have it super hard, as tons of sounds look the same, which I know thanks to my undergraduate degree in linguistics.
So what happens when lip reading goes horribly awry? Ten people shared awkward conversations they've over
heardread, and it's like the modern-day, reality version of that incredible episode of Seinfeld.
1. Santa, baby.
One person shared the unfortunate story of learning the truth about Santa. When his brother, who's deaf, learned "the sad, sad truth," he ran to spread the news to his sibling.
"That's how I found out Santa wasn't real," he writes, dejected.
In another problematic Christmas snafu, one grandmother saw this person's "brother's ex" mouth "I don't love you anymore" at their family's holiday dinner. Yikes, what a present.
2. Directions to the afterparty!
After a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, one person "noticed the guitarist mouthing words to some girls in the front." He kept saying "Room 404! Room 404!" This person thought the guitarist might be trying to get into these girls' pants.
On the way back to their room, they walked by 404 and "sure enough, the door was wide open with some band members inside." They got to party with Lynyrd Skynyrd and even "hang out with the lead singer for a bit."
Thanks to their lip-reading abilities, this person had a really fun night.
3. "Sheep are essentially the larval form of sweaters"
Game recognizes game in this story, where one person's hilarious conversation was overheard by a lip reader. "I was overheard by a deaf woman while I was talking about how sheep are essentially the larval form of sweaters," they wrote. "I caught her when she started laughing while sitting alone at the table next to us."
I actually don't know what's funnier, the contents of the conversation, or the fact that someone was lucky enough to enjoy it from afar.
4. "No, I wear deodorant."
"At one of my previous jobs," one person shared, "the VP of the division was often late for and / or missed meetings."
One fine day, the "manager decided to stop waiting and start the meeting without him," telling the rest of his team that "David is at a sweat lodge" — which this person hilariously misread as "David sweats a lot."
When the manager asked if anyone else on the team "had ever done that," this person casually and mildly disgustedly responded, "Umm, no, I wear deodorant."
Silence erupted around the conference room until a co-worker "finally figured out what happened" and clarified the manager had said "'sweat lodge,' not 'sweats a lot!'"
5. Welp, that's one way to find out.
"My then audiologist" told this person's mom they had "profound hearing loss" after the doctor caught them "lip reading in the testing room."
For anyone wondering, you can totally be unaware of your hearing loss, just the same way it's hard to notice when your eyesight gets worse because it happens so gradually.
6. So *that's* the real reason George got dumped.
One person who might as well have been on the set of the aforementioned Seinfeld episode, "was waiting at a train and saw two people arguing on the corner." It wasn't hard to pick up that what was going down was a breakup.
"It was something along the lines of, 'I don't want to be with someone who can't clean dishes after themselves'," they write. Which TBH beats the "it's not me, it's you" reasoning George was given.
Lipreading wasn't needed after that exchange because the breakup went "full on scream fest."
7. The old "let's mess with mom" technique.
One person on reddit shared their version of the classic children's plight to mess with their mothers. This person's mother was deaf, so they and their brother would get her attention "by stomping on the floor."
Once she'd feel the vibrations and come to see what they wanted, they'd "proceed to say a bunch of random words," like "potato bike slam going to Walmart" or just lazily "move our lips and flop our tongue around to simulate speaking."
My dad used to do this to me when I was a kid and even though I'm hearing, it was infuriatingly crazy-making. Luckily this person's "mom was always a good sport" and was able to laugh it off every time "she caught on."
8. "I love you"
I mentioned earlier that several words look the same. Your mouth makes the same movements when producing the "b" sound as it does when making the "p" sound, for example, which gives rise to funny misunderstandings.
And what's more hilarious than mishearing a crush say they love you? Not much, if you ask this person who learned the hard way that "colorful" looks like a declaration of love.
Many chimed in with other words that look surprisingly a lot like "I love you" when lipread. My favorites are "olive juice," "elephant shoe" and "island view."
But I also learned that "vacuum" looks a lot like you're cursing someone out.
9. Not those kinds of crabs.
Admittedly, this is more of a context error than a bad lipreading, but one person shared what happened when they welcomed their friends back home from a vacation in Africa.
"A group of us went out to eat while they regaled us with stories of their trip," they begin. "I turned away from them for a few minutes to make a comment to the person sitting next to me, and turn back in time to see them say, '...and while we were in Mombasa, we had really bad crabs."
Sympathetic to their painful plight, this person jumped in to say, "Damn, I've heard those things itch like a motherf#(@@. How do you get rid of them?" What ensued was an "uncomfortable silence" while people tried to process what just went down.
Finally, someone who figured out they'd misunderstood the "type of crabs" they meant saved the day by saying, "No, not pubic crabs; the kind of crabs you eat!"
10. It's crucial to follow along for the entirety of the conversation.
This is the most difficult aspect of lip-reading, in my opinion. As a hearing person (check my privilege, I know), I space out countless times over the course of a convo and kind of jump in and out whenever it suits my mood.
One person who relies heavily on lip-reading did this, and it bit them straight in the butt. "I got lost in a conversation about babies," they begin. Thinking they were talking about umbilical cord stumps, they interjected, "I heard that they just fall off on their own if they're left alone."
It turns out they were talking about foreskins, "and everyone burst out laughing." What's that old German saying? Whereof one cannot speak, one ought to remain silent?
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