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This is serious, so listen up. The notion that He Who Is Best At Chatting-Up might just have an evolutionary advantage is gaining currency in the scientific world. That’s right.  The ability to woo a lady with words is gaining credibility.  And it makes a lot of sense.

We’re all familiar with how the peacock flaunts his  flamboyant feathers in his evolutionary struggle to attract the most desirable peahens.  Success might not help him to survive, but because his prodigious plumage suggests he is physically fitter than the other peacocks,  the peahens find him more attractive and are more likely to mate with him, thus ensuring that the best genes–namely his–are passed on.

We’re not so different.  It turns out that the classic chat-up line has evolved in the name of love.

Geoffrey Miller, in The Mating Mind,  says “language puts minds on public display, where sexual selection could see them clearly for the first time.”  And, happily for all the brainiacs, it turns out that intelligence is an important factor in mate selection.  At least when a female is considering procreation.  It appears that language is the best means of identifying fitness for survival.  The process of getting to know someone is “the heart of human sexual selection.” Hours of conversation usually proceed any physical contact, if there is any at all.  Just as peacocks developed pretty tails, men seem to have learned how to speak.  It is no coincidence that boys are not fluent in their speech until they hit puberty.  At this point it becomes necessary for dating.  Miller thinks verbal fluency is obviously related to sexual selection because males begin to use their verbal skills as they become aware of their sexuality.  (Mind you, as the mother and grandmother of boys, I would question that; in my humble experience it is just when they hit puberty that boys become monosyllabic.  But perhaps they save their syllables for teenage girls .)

According to Miller,  the importance of human vocabulary is related to the actual extent of it. There are roughly 60,000 words in the English language, yet the average adult uses only about 2%  of them.  A mere 850 English words constitute what is known as Basic English, sufficient to provide an entirely functional version of English.  Miller suggests that a large vocabulary is an “ornamental luxury,” and an indicator of fitness and intelligence which may have evolved through sexual selection.  It turns out that vocabulary size has about an 80% correlation with general intelligence. (Duh) Studies done on identical twins reared apart correlate 75% of their vocabulary size.  He maintains these results indicate that our parents give us the genes to be able to learn words, yet do not necessarily teach us our entire vocabulary, which he claims is clear support for the idea that large vocabularies were sexually selected. Also “couples in long term relationships tend to have vocabularies of similar size.”

Yet again, we see that size does matter.

Here’s what a group of reviewers had to say about Miller’s theory:

The problem with the theory that language was sexually selected is that most sexually selected features are of larger ornamentation in males than in females. Human females have better verbal abilities, which is a contradiction to the sexual selection theory.  (Miller’s)  proposed explanation for this inconsistency is that males tend to be “display producers” and females tend to be “display discriminators.”  Meaning that men use their large vocabularies on a daily basis to impress women, and women are able to recognize and comprehend their exotic words.  He points out that “most tests of human verbal ability are tests of comprehension, not tests of language production.”   His male-display, female-choice theory predicts that women would do better on these types of tests. Coinciding with this explanation is the fact that men tend to write more books, ask more questions, dominate mixed sex discussions, etc.  The one contradiction to the male display theory is that men cannot articulate the “simplest thought or feeling”  to their sexual partner.  Miller proposes that once a male has effectively utilized verbal courtship and gotten a female partner he feels that this energy does not need to be expended anymore.  It is a cost that has no return payment.  Basically once a sexual relationship has been established the man is only willing to expend a certain amount of energy to maintain it. “… animals evolve to allocate their energies efficiently.”   If sexual relations are suspended the male has temporary motivation for verbal courtship, yet when reproductive success is not on the line, the effort stops.   (my emphasis, of course)  http://www.drmillslmu.com/sexdiffs/spr01/panel5.htm

Okay.  I think I’ve demonstrated some of the scientific thinking on the matter.  But what does it all mean today?  I’ll tell you what means; it means the guy who can come up with the best opening gambit has the best chance of distributing his seed for posterity.  So what is a good opening gambit? I hear you ask.  Well, that’s not so easy.  I’m sure as heck not going to tell you what works for me, but I have trolled the literature on the subject and I can offer a few suggestions.

Compliments never go amiss.  Unless they are obviously disingenuous, of course.  But remember, the one to whom the compliment is being paid almost never suspects they are less than sincere.

Humour is a real winner, so long as it is appropriate (not salacious).  And never make fun of someone else.

Lines that might work   or not

Pardon me,but I noticed you noticing me, and I wanted to give notice that I also noticed you.

If beauty was a drop of water, then you’d be the ocean.

Can you give me directions to your heart? I’ve seemed to have lost myself in your eyes

So how was heaven when you left?

Do you believe in love at first sight…or should I walk by you again?

(Pick up a flower and walk over to girl.)  I was just showing this flower how beautiful you are.

If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put U and I together.

I don’t mean to bother you, but I had to come over and introduce my self; otherwise I’ll be kicking myself for days.

Forget It

Should I call you in the morning or nudge you?

I lost my phone number, can I borrow yours?

Is Your Dad A terrorist? Because you’re the “BOMB!

Your eyes are as dark as a castle moat by midnight. Lower your drawbridge and let me cross.

Baby you must be a broom cuz you just swept me off my feet!!

Is your dad a carpenter? (no, why?) ’cause you’re givin’ me a woody!

Hey you! You sexy bit of filth.  Get your ass over here.

Okay, so those are lines to use (or not) in a bar, or other face-to-face situation.  But nowadays it is as likely as not that you’ll be cruising online, and that will take a bit more doing.  This is where testosterone isn’t going to help you much, guys.  That earth-moving bass voice, the rippling muscles, the bedroom eyes…they ain’t gonna work for you here.  This is where you really risk exposure. You can get some clever Dick or Jane to write a terrific profile–true or false–but the moment you start chatting up someone directly, you are on your own. Whether written or voice, you’ll have to rely on your verbal skills.  Are you up to it?

The very same principles apply online as face to face, but they just carry more weight when you can’t deliver your line with a cheeky smile.  Oh, sure, you’ve posted a photo that showed how you looked six years ago, and cropped it to hide the beer gut, but the photo will only get you so far, so polish up that profile and your opening gambit.  Compliments, humour, wit, and at least a modicum of modesty will go a long way.  Focus your remarks on why you are interested in her/him, not on more info about yourself.  And choose your words wisely.

PS: Men, if you’ve had to look up any of the words here, don’t bother calling.        MM

Susan Sayler’s  “The Holistic Love Theory” blog:  
Looking for love? Sharpen up your game with a little evolutionary cunning. New Scientist plays Cupid to test the rules of attraction   * 09 February 2011 by 
Helen Thomson