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Auctioneers are sold on their profession

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) _ ``Fast talker'' isn't a label most people would find very flattering, but for an auctioneer, being a fast talker is just part of the job.

It would be pretty difficult to grow up in rural America without ever hearing the familiar rhythmic chant of an auctioneer, selling livestock, cars, farm equipment, antiques, or anything else that needs selling.

But as for those who have never heard an auctioneer, once they finally do, they always have the same question: ``What in the world is he saying?''

``Auctioneering is a skill, and it's a learned skill,'' said Paul Dewees, president of the Missouri Auction School, located just outside of St. Louis. ``But it's also an illusion. We're not really talking fast so much as we're talking continually.''

Dewees said auctioneering is just like any other developed skill like driving or playing an instrument. You start out slow and eventually build up speed.

``Part of it is working on your own pattern; part of it is slurring the filler words,'' he said.

Those filler words are thrown in to add rhythm, but don't necessarily have any logical connection to the item being auctioned or the price.

We'll usually throw in the price we're wanting three times for every time we say the current price, and as you conduct more auctions, those filler words get more and more slurred,'' Dewees explained. ``After a while, auctioneers will develop their own style.''

Dewees said that slurred, singsong style of auctioneering is unique to the United States, and started with the old folk songs of Ireland and England. The rhythms of those tunes were probably thrown into early American auctions for an entertaining effect.

British auctions are still conducted with a more normal talking voice, and the auctioneer's emphasis is more on the current price, rather than the next bid.

``Our style is more aggressive in trying to get that next bid. There's a since of urgency, that this may be your only chance, and if you're going to get this item, you better bid on it now. People from other parts of the world like to hear American auctions because they're entertaining, and there is a sense that, if you sound good and you've got a pleasant roll, people will want to stay.''

Tommy Wright of Vian grew up listening to auctioneer Wayne Andrews at the Poor Boy Livestock Auction in Wister, trying to imitate his auctioneering style. Now, Wright's developed his own style, and conducts auctions throughout the area.

He said the speed and style of auctioneering often depends on the context of the auction. At an estate auction, for example, you won't hear the machine-gun rhythm of a livestock auctioneer.

``Livestock is a faster pace, because you're running so many through, and it's a whole different rhythm,'' he said. ``At estate sales or farm sales, it's slower, but you still have to have the personality to bring the people in.''

Wright, who also teaches school, started auctioneering as a side project, but it's grown into a profitable business.

``It started out as a hobby, but it turned into more than that,'' he said. ``You can make more auctioneering than you can make teaching school.''

Like Wright, Kenneth Adams is a self-taught auctioneer who mainly does estate auctions. Even though he never attended auctioneering school, Adams has had a lot of on-the-job experience.

``I've been conducting auctions since I was 10 years old, and I'm 60 now,'' he said.

Adams' grandfather, Bud Dunavin, had a real estate office in downtown Tahlequah, just north of the Cherokee Courthouse square. It was Dunavin who first suggested to the young Kenneth Adams that he get into auctioneering.

``He told me I was a natural-born auctioneer,'' said Adams. ``I thought, 'Well, I'll just try that.' I worked at the sale barn, and when we were checking in cattle, I'd go turn on the microphone and try it, and I just loved it.''

Like Wright, Adams said different auctions call for different styles. The folks who show up for an estate sale, for example, may not be familiar with livestock auctioneering style, so he keeps it fairly simple.

``I don't have any fillers like a lot of guys will throw in,'' he said. ``I'm just calling the numbers. In my business, you want everybody to understand you; I want to be plain as day.''

Retired Sen. Herb Rozell of Tahlequah is a graduate of auctioneering school, although he didn't go to become an auctioneer.

Rozell presided over the Oklahoma Senate from 1985 to 2004, and did a lot of talking, quite a bit of it at auctioneer speed, during that time. For years, he served as assistant majority floor leader, which meant he often presided over the Senate.

``You have certain things you must do when you preside over the Senate, and some of it is repetitive,'' said Rozell, who added that talking at such a fast rate also cut down on some of the political rhetoric that's often thrown into legislative sessions.

``They'd jump up and want to say something, and I'd say, 'We're already past that, you can't do that now.' I didn't use it to my advantage, though. In fact, on serious bills, I'd go slow,'' Rozell said.

Each day of a legislative session starts with a prayer by a minister, who sits next to the presiding senator. Rozell said ministers would often comment on his elocutionary speed.

``Ninety percent of them would lean over and say to me, 'You sound just like an auctioneer,''' said Rozell. ``But I didn't throw in all those words most auctioneers do. I just wanted to talk fast.''
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