The Shazi Nazeem story, in which I “glass bead game” my previous blog and its’ current commenters (3): (sounding generally like some asshole composition instructor)
In my Judaism class at North East Missouri State, an elective in my philosophy and religion undergraduate degree, I had a fellow student named Shazi Nazeem. Shazi is a great guy and was, I think, in Jason’s fraternity. (You may still see him in KC J as I think I heard he had gotten married through you). I had lots of classes with him and we were casual friends. Shazi’s name and family heritage is Persian in origin & he will be quite happy to tell you about the Hamurabic code and the origins of chess as part of the construction of his family’s past and his current identity. I think he went into law.
Anyway, one day before the instructor, Mark Appold, arrived I was telling some story to another student about some mutual friend’s diatribe and Shazi asked me what a diatribe was. I said, “It’s sort of like when someone gets up on their soapbox and rants for a bit about something.” Shazi said, “Well why didn’t you just say that?” and I responded, “For the same reason that when I am going to take a shower, I say “I am going to take a shower,” rather than, “I am going to go and immerse myself in water for the purpose of cleanliness. Vocabulary is a tool to get you where you are going faster.”
I used to tell my composition students this story & would suggest that our individual vocabularies were like a pond of water and our consciousness was like a fish swimming in that water. More words & ideas not only mean you get a bigger pond to think and swim in, certain words or metaphors help you cross that larger pond in a flash. So when you drop a name it is not done specifically with the intent of impressing anyone, you are simply encapsulating that individual’s impact on history and culture to save time – we say, “that was a Freudian slip” rather than, “that thing you just mistakenly said that may have reflected your actual, but suppressed feelings, reminded me of the German theorist and progenitor of the discipline psychology who felt that occasional conversational gaffs reflected a layered consciousness with feelings that are not always self apparent to the feeler.” If the person you are speaking to doesn’t catch the reference then they simply ask – simple.
This is an open-ended game because of course the more you know, the more you realize how much there is to know and suddenly your little pond is confronted with the ocean of history, language, and culture that deafens and dwarfs you with its vastness. For myself I’ve discovered that the best I can do for my own erudition is read people who are erudite, and thus like a lamprey hanging off an intellectual shark, catch the tasty bits that I can track. Burroughs is a shark, Borges is a shark, Umberto Ecco is a shark. Read whatever you read with a pen and a dictionary, read voracious readers and become one yourself. Why should I Karl? Because it’s fun, or for more serious reasons:
The decline of a shared English vocabulary means a very real decline in our national capacity to think – this is of course worrisome especially when our inarticulate leader clearly suffers from this impediment to reason. The lowest common denominator vocabulary is probably the result of the need for journalists to sell a lot of papers, magazines, and the evening news. If you pitch too high, people don’t buy. I’m not saying that this is the result of a deliberate conspiracy, but it is a situation that is clearly useful to an elite that is effective in the use of emotionally potent oversimplification – they are bad we are good & good guys need oil – pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain etc. They killed 3,000 in the world trade center, with their CIA training so that justifies killing several hundred thousand of the people in Afghanistan who gave aid, dialysis and comfort to Osama etc. and a few hundred more thousand in Iraq because they… invaded the country where most of the terrorists actually came from (Saudi Arabia)? If you’re going to start reading sharks, start with Noam Chomsky.