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Today we shall address the rampant rise in kidding, most commonly expressed by the question, "Are you kidding me?" Specifically, we will address this issue as it relates to the NCAA Tournament.

It seems abundantly clear that television announcers have come to believe a whole lot of people are in the business of kidding them. Anecdotal evidence indicates the majority of the kidding is being done immediately after sensational plays take place on the basketball court.

It is difficult to pinpoint the genesis for the epidemic of kidding basketball announcers, but as soon as a great play is completed, an announcer invariably asks, "Are you kidding me?"

High-flying dunks, 3-point baskets, last-second shots -- each one has, in its own way, contributed to the exponential rise in the kidding of broadcasters. George Mason University's unlikely run to the Final Four has created a record 68 reported incidents of kidding.

Assuming the question is meant to be rhetorical -- and that we are, in fact, kidding them -- it's interesting to note the different ways in which the question is asked. In each instance, the same four words are used in the same sequence, but inflection -- and sometimes over-inflection -- continually changes the context.

Three examples:

1. "Are you kidding me?"
Intent of inflection: An attempt to engage the viewer with a direct plea. This form carries undertones of paranoia, since it ascribes thoughts and motivation to unseen people.

Probable Viewer Answer: Am I kidding you? No. I am simply watching a basketball game, hoping to be entertained. I may even be avoiding something -- work, work in the yard, the IRS. I am not, to answer the question, kidding you.

2. "Are you kidding me?"

Intent of inflection: The emphasis on kidding suggests that another verb could be used. On HBO, for example, the broadcaster might employ something more scatological.

Probable Viewer Answer: Again, I am doing the same thing I was doing the last time you asked. I am watching a basketball game.

3. "Are you kidding me?"
Intent of inflection: Threatening. A little angrier than the first two, more intense. This form is most likely to be yelled. Suggests a lost bet, or an announcer whose alma mater just got beaten by an impossible shot. This time it's personal.

Probable Viewer Answer: Not kidding. Still. Just watching the game, hoping not to be yelled at. We're not looking for trouble, OK? I mean, are you kidding me with that tone?

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And sometimes, they serve 'em up on a tee: Barry Bonds' attorney, in a press conference concerning his laughable lawsuit aimed at forcing the authors of "Game of Shadows" to give their profits to charity, asked how he could break the news about the use of illegally obtained grand-jury documents to his 8-year-old.

The good thing is, most of the dinner-table talk centers on grand-jury testimony, with the occasional discussion of Shield Laws thrown in for good measure: What will Michael Rains, Bonds' attorney, say when the legal-minded 8-year-old asks, "Daddy, is Winstrol available without a prescription?"

Continued...


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