Friday, September 11, 2009
I Talk Good: the status of speaking well
We had a great book group discussion last night about Aleksandar Hemon's novel The Lazarus Project. Hemon is Bosnian and he met with the ultimate vacation nightmare. While vacationing in Chicago in 1992, war broke out in Sarajevo and he was unable to return home. He used this catastrophe to improve his English and in a mere three years, Hemon had published his first book, A Question of Bruno. Like Joseph Conrad (born Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski in Poland) and Vladimir Nabokov, Aleksandar Hemon not only writes in his non-native tongue, he does it brilliantly. If this fact weren't daunting enough, one of the discussion members, a former high school English teacher, noted that even she was unfamiliar with some of the words in the book and was sent scurrying to the dictionary. ( Here's a sampling: abseiling, piebalded, edentate.)
This prompted another member of the group to query whether language will be the new status symbol now that the economy has taken a downturn and we won't have our fancy material goods to showcase our importance. What if the new Kings and Queens of the Hill are the ones with the largest vocabulary, most perfect syntax and most clearly enunciated murmur diphthongs? After all, it was duly noted that the fight song for the old football team at University of Chicago was "Repulse them! Repulse them! Make them relinquish the ball!" All those Pulitzer prizes can't be wrong.
If the day ever comes when the finely wrought phrase replaces the Rolls Royce, who will be your hero? The first person who comes to mind is Winston Churchill. I can't think of anyone who spoke or wrote better than he. (Note the correct choice of "he" instead of "him".) As for the living, I love to listen to Christopher Hitchens speak even though I disagree with half of his arguments. Who would you choose? If a good vocabulary is the new black, who is your little little black dress?
P.S. Here are the definitions of the words above.
piebald: marked by or with two different colors
edentate: lacking in teeth.