A Prisoner of Linguistic Style, or A Fine Vocabulary
April 23, 2014
Some months, it may actually have been a year or more, ago, I quickly wrote down what I thought was a clever phrase describing a dim bulb who was using words that he likely did not really understand in constructions that were plainly beyond his intellect. The phrase is “He was equipped with a fine vocabulary far in excess of his intellectual needs.” Very Oscar Wilde I thought, and why not turn it into a short essay? What follows is the curious result…
A Fine Vocabulary
It became obvious to me embarrassingly soon after I met him that he was equipped with a fine vocabulary that was far in excess of his intellectual needs. The simplest expressions of emotion were embellished with acoustic showers of redundant decoration that seemed at times, no, nearly always, baroque, byzantine. No adjective or adverb lately languishing in a remote corner of an equally remote and neglected dictionary was spared farcical inclusion in the fantastic constructions he believed were sentences transporting meaning. Verbs that had not compressed air since years preceding the Reformation found frequent usage in his utterances. Blank stares of incomprehension on the astounded faces of listeners made little or no difference to either his verbal momentum or determination to communicate tortuously and obliquely, though he was not, and could not be, actually aware of any analysis of style. He was profoundly unaware and existed in a personal bubble of curious illusion where only his loquacity and imagined inventiveness ruled.
The longer I lingered, a reluctant satellite, in the irregular orbits of his acquaintance the more elaborate became his constructions and spoken opacity. I sensed I was an involuntary catalyst to an increasingly tangential fabrication of words that were vaguely mortared by alien and constantly varying grammars.
Thankfully, occasionally, and quite randomly, a comprehension slid through, and perhaps a waiter or other attendant would actually bring something very close to whatever it was that he imagined he had requested. It was perhaps this infrequent mercy that kept him alive.
At length it dawned upon me that he was in fact held in a prison not quite of his own making. His jail, a socio-linguistic shell assembled from material easily found in the class to which he belonged where the direct expression of emotion and needs were elaborately coded and subjugated to prescribed avenues of rigid and hardly efficient conversation. Adding an assumed, an affected admiration for orators of the nineteenth century complicated any attempt to speak clearly. Thus denied easy and simpler forms he was doomed to fight his way to making his points and needs understood via what always seemed to its objects as bizarre and confusing audible sequences. Instead of protecting him this Shield of Thesaurus, this lingual elaboration, merely held him in a social limbo barely tolerated by prisoners of equally disturbing language disabilities.
And again, the longer I dallied in whatever circumferential path was my entropic fate I could not escape the increasingly plain and terrifying conclusion that not only was I a catalyst for his own spiraling demise but, from whatever cerebral disease or social imprisonment my acquaintance suffered, it was rapidly becoming my own.