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Monday, 10 October 2011

The Science of the Beep

The other day the peace and quiet of our village was split by a furious blaring of horns. Without looking I knew what had happened. Someone had pulled out of the junction up the road in front of someone else who was carrying straight on. Happens all the time, and always leads to much disgruntled beeping.
It's curious that the beep can be made to mean so many different things and, even stranger, that we automatically interpret it. The tone doesn't change, the pitch is unwavering, the only variable is duration. 
A prolonged beeeep, particularly when accompanied by a squeal of tyres, is usually indicative of vexation. Whereas a short, curt bip tends to mean 'wake up sonny Jim, the lights have changed you know!' A double or triple bip is normally directed at an unsuspecting friend walking along the road and typically produces a brief moment of startled levitation in the recipient, followed by frantic waving as the bipper disappears in a cloud of exhaust smoke.
I suppose the science of the beep is further demonstration, as Stephen Fry would remind us, of the complexities of human communication, though I rather suspect that even he has never conducted an in depth investigation into the phenomenon.

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