Mincing words by Trevor Plumbly
Z is for zombie
It struck me the other day, whilst ruminating over the Glenlivet, that language has lost a lot of value since the folk at Silicon Valley decided we needed electronic assistance to resolve things that a reasonable education equipped us to cope with. Sure, life and language evolve and some stuff needs to go; I, for one, don’t want to revisit the formality of the 19th Century, but where most of the population’s concerned, the ability to express themselves clearly seems to be taking a dive. I notice that a lot of folk, especially youngsters, seem to drop their heads when they speak, as if they’re reading a text or finding their shoes more interesting than active conversation.
‘I heard that! Pardon?
Was a gag line from an old TV comedy series which strikes a chord today. As the talent to express oneself clearly gives way to small screen script, will the courtesy of listening attentively become semi-redundant too? It seems to me that Facebook, Twitter, TikTok etc have become de facto classrooms for anyone old enough to hold a cell-phone, as well as a megaphone for half-baked politicians and conspiracy theorists to reach those unwilling or unable to exert too much mental energy. Recent figures indicate that a huge number of young people spend an average of 40 hours a week glued to iPads or cell-phones. Small wonder literacy and mental health issues need urgent attention: maybe making it much more difficult for our kids to fry their brains out might be a start.
As she is spoke
In the public arena, meandering utterances far outweigh memorable speeches. The great ones owe their importance to the speaker’s eloquence and love of language. Churchill’s ‘we shall never surrender’ was targeted to inflame and motivate a nation facing uncertainty and it worked through his ability to get the message across to an entire nation. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ ranks as one of the greatest examples of public speaking. In a beautifully rolling cadence he laid out his case and simply asked the crowd to share his vision.
Some do, some don’t
It’s interesting listening to today’s crop; leaving aside their political leanings, some have clearly got the ‘it’ factor that can sway an audience whilst others struggle to connect. It’s not necessarily the message, more the messenger. Most outside the current cess-pit of American politics would fully support Liz Cheney; she is principled to the extent of sacrificing her career to uphold her principles. Whilst I agreed with all she said in her last speech, I felt that she lacked the ‘it’ that could have sparked a re-think within her party. Trump is entirely different, a snake oil salesman with rodent cunning, he picks his stamping ground to fit the message and connects well with his home crowd. A natural rabble rouser, eerily reminiscent of Hitler, repetitive and built on the old staples of fear and resentment.
Prophet and loss
I’ve always felt preachers have the advantage when it comes to sharing a message: they’re not really tied to an earthly balance sheet and as a result they’ve topped the charts from the word go. Promises and pitfalls can get woven into their narrative and since the fate of those who did or didn’t heed the call remains uncertain, there’s a bit of infallibility involved as well. The good ones such as Revivalists can dangle the joys of the Promised Land or threaten eternal purgatory in a single sentence without missing a beat. The Televangelists are equally persuasive but tend to be more syrupy; let’s face it, if you plan to milk a few bob out of the vulnerable, a bit of sugar must help.
In a few words
In 1863, whilst travelling to visit a civil war cemetery, the then US president Abraham Lincoln reportedly jotted his notes down on a single sheet of paper which became the script for one of the most important speeches in American history: the Gettysburg Address. Astonishingly, at a time when florid oratory was expected of politicians, Lincoln opted to deliver the message in as few words as possible and they remain important. The term ‘gifted speaker’ implies ‘it’ is just there for some; it’s not! It’s born out of a love of language and honed through hard work. So as Crosby, Stills and Nash once instructed, ‘Teach your children well’, if you want them to shine.