Repeat after me: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Now repeat this standard sentence again, aloud, using a stopwatch.
If you can ask that question in two seconds or less, you, my son or daughter, are eligible for becoming an auctioneer.
This is one of the helpful pieces of information you pick up by watching Werner Herzog’s 1974 documentary, “How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?” One of the competitors at the annual Cattle Auctioning World Championships, when asked how he learned to talk so fast, revealed the trade secret that he got up to the required speed by repeating that question thousands of times.
Of course an auctioneer never has to sell woodchucks. He is often called upon to auction off cattle. This is how he, or an occasional she, makes a living. So if he values the delights of eating well and sleeping in comfort, he must develop a more extensive repertoire of strings of what appear to be words rolling from his hoarse larynx and through his tobacco-stained teeth and off his motorized lips.
This repertoire must include all known numbers. When a number, such as 38, is spoken, it must be spit out fast. It must also be understandable, though an aspiring auctioneer is well advised to cheat a little by cutting out a phoneme or two from each word. For example, instead of saying “thir-tee eight and a quar-ter,” he might say “thrat na quota.”
Within the interstices of these numbers, your facile auctioneer need not bother with the criterion of understandability. Speed, however, cannot be deleted from the equation.
Bidding on cattle is one of the liberal arts, where ranchers are concerned. To be understood by the auctioneer, all a rancher must do in making a bid is twitch a finger or blink an eye, etc. But there is one criterion for being understandable. The bidder must be consistent in the finger or eye, etc., that he uses.
Another hint for a bidder. Never, under any circumstance, must you stand up or raise your hand urgently. What you were taught in grade school on the matter of asking permission to go to the bathroom does not apply.