Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Language And These Highly Intelligent Fellows

I know a few of them and these brainy coves are all well and good. I can often be found in the company of a gang or two of them, I'm the one saying very little and listening with all my ears fully open, trying to learn, but more importantly trying to understand. Thinking about it, it's impossible that the collective term for academics would be "gang", no it would have to be "school" wouldn't it?

But something I've noticed with these brainboxes is that they often talk and write in words and sentences that are beyond the level of comprehension of us regular and normal types. It's a phenom that genuinely perplexes me, one I've asked Academic Bro about quite a few times, the problem being that I've failed to understand his answer.

Academic Bro often writes papers and articles, books and things and I get to read them. The thing that has always struck me is that they're written in a language that is so different to my everyday speaking one, or my writing one. Yet it's language that many academics find familiar and comfortable, it's words, phrases and sentences that they really say to each other. Mad.

I wonder if this two tier liguistic approach is a way in which the brainy chaps try to keep themsleves separated from us lesser mortals, or is it the fact that the language happens and that's what separates us?

Why exactly did I start on this rather rambling introduction? Well it all came about when I read this review of The Travelling Circus on Groundviews. It's by Sanjana himself, a good pal of mine, but, fuck me, as we commoners say, it's hard to make sense of. It's well written, with grammar worthy of one of PG Wodehouse's better known characters, though not Bertram W himself, and, though I haven't analysed it mathematically, I feel sure that he's probably used at least eighteen, maybe even nineteen, of the letters in the alphabet.

There are words in English that I've never heard before, let alone the ones in obscure foreign languages, like Italian and French, that leave me with a puzzled frown and lines in my forehead. The first paragraph starts lightly, presumably to get the reader's interest and persuade him to pursue things. The only two controversial words are "juxtapose" and "highfalutin". Even I might use the former sometimes.

The second paragraph is where the big guns come out firing. As early as the second sentence Sanjana makes adroit use of the Italian "commedia dell'arte." I only use the word "adroit" in a vain attempt to prove my own intellectual credentials, the truth is that Sanjana uses it later on and that's where I got the idea. I know that "commedia dell'arte" is Italian purely because he helpfully wrote it in the language of the Italians; Italics.

As we progress muddily through the paragraph we encounter "inflorescence" and "insouciance", words I'll get around to looking up soon, with the benefit that they'll be within a few pages of each other in the dictionary. Mr H tells us that

"The Travelling Circus, in this respect, was a technical tour de force"

Now come on. I'm not totally stupid, I've read things, watched a bit of sport of TV and I've got a trendy green bike, one of those ones with brakes so good that I'm constantly in danger of flying over the handlebars. I know the Tour de Force is probably the hardest and most famous cycle race in the world, I know about the yellow jersey and all, I just don't think one can compare The Travelling Circus to it.

The review continues with complicated, confusing and mind boggling language, though it's spelled correctly and our Sanj, as I like to call him, puts all his apostrophes in the right places, never confusing an it's with an its. He uses the word "denouement" and even puts an accent above the first e. How clever is that? I can do an ê, but an e (with an accent) evades me. Mind you, I bet Sanjana can't play Sex On Fire on the drums, particularly the middle eight.

It took until I got to the very last line for me to figure out if he liked the play or not. Even I got the gist of it.

"This is theatre at its best".

He could have just said that really.

I must dash, I'm trying to cook beef with jus in bello, it's a recipe Sanjana mentioned to me the other day.


Gypsy said...

Hahahahahaha! I looked around for a high-flown version of "brilliant" but brilliant will have to suffice on its own.

If he hits you with his slippers for this one, don't cry to me. You deserve it. Oh, and also a hug :)

Good luck with the cooking. C is the guinea pig I suppose?

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Thanks G12 - I am quite scared now, on slipper alert big time!

T said...

Academics are annoyingly pretentious with their language. I couldn't get through half my anthropology textbooks in college because i kept having to refer back to a dictionary. Even at work the research proposals we have to go through are so tedious because they say in a paragraph what can be said in a sentence.

I might just start a club, Academics Against Obnoxious Writing.

Janusis said...


Sach said...

T, I'll join AAOW, immediately.

Sanjana Hattotuwa said...

Biff! Bam! Thud! Zap!

Love it. I am going to link this to my original on Groundviews.

Sanjana Hattotuwa said...

I've linked to this coruscating (!!) wit of this review - can't stop laughing.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Damn! he found it. And I've got another word to look up now; coruscating.

Anonymous said...

jolly well said mate! Certain groundviews posts are just a tedious show-off of pretentious, literary bravado. Often by arm-chair pontificators, happy and secure in their little intellectual bubble, hiding behind a veil of high-flown language