Thursday, March 10, 2005

The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth

In my never-ending, and largely unsuccessful, battle against the mundane I occasionally indulge in silly little word games to make the act of communication for interesting. Language is a deeply wonderful thing and we should all play with it more than we do; a little more poetry, a little more tongue-play, a spot of va va voom.

Lately, I’ve been indulging in a couple of word games of my own formulation:

1. The Chow Yan-Fat game

Based on my profound love of Hong Kong produced action movies, I occasionally try to sound as Hong Kong Chinese as possible. It’s easy. All you have to do is take a sentence and

  • Remove at least one verb
  • Include referrence to someone with a Western Christian name and Chinese surname
  • Most importantly, say aaaaah at the end

e.g. ‘You betray me to Johnny Wong, aaaah’ or ‘Tracy Chan, you no remember to buy milk from Tescos today, aaaah’

2. The Sherlock Holmes game

Demonstrate that you don’t give a toss for the tedious World around you, but you do really, by prolific use of double negatives.

e.g. ‘this bowl of muesli is not without its interesting features’

But now I have a new game to play; a new game inspired by Tony Blair’s speech in the House of Commons back in March 2003.

‘We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years - contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence - Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd.’

‘Palpably absurd’ – a concept so absurd that it has assumed physical form and can be perceived by the senses. Absurdity so thick you can actually taste it.

By any standards that is quite a high degree of absurdity.

This speech shows why so many politicians started out as lawyers. Only a lawyer would respond to an important question by quoting a false premise of their own phrasing, then respond to that false premise with a non argument.

This looks like a whole lot of fun and I’m going to start talking like that for a while. I’ve already got one lined up for the next time I trump in mixed company …

‘To suggest that the ghost of my long dead cat and childhood friend, Lulu, has crept into this room and just broken wind, right next to where I'm sitting is ...

palpably absurd’

Of course, the reason why I was reminded about Tony’s speech was because of the quote earlier this week from the White House …

"It's absurd to make any such suggestion that our men and women in uniform would deliberately target innocent civilians," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

OK, he used the word absurd at the start of the sentence rather than at the end and skipped the ‘palpably’, or even a mere ‘patently’, but the classic hallmarks are all there nevertheless. I particularly enjoy the implication that ‘our brave boys in uniform’ are being accused of targeting civilian allies, rather than the actual claim that people considerably higher up the food chain ordered a hit.

As with Tony Blair’s speech, the use of the word ‘absurd’ is not actually a proper denial and leaves the person who used it open to some high-quality, sliming out should the truth ever be discovered.

I am therefore obliged to conclude that the Americans did deliberately target Ms Leftie Italian journalist

It shouldn’t come as a surprise really. Since the assault on Fallujah last November pretty much every journalist who’s tried to discover what really happened there has been killed or kidnapped, or both. Telling your colleagues that you’re off to Baghdad to investigate claims of atrocities in Fallujah is the journalistic equivalent of Lawrence Oates telling his mates he’s just popping outside for a few minutes. Their friends might as well paint them with laser pointers on the way out to the airport just to give them a feel of what to look forward to.

PS I just did a quick web search to find truthful, pre Blair, quotes using the word absurd and came across this one from that noted social commentator, Richard Gere.

‘America has never paid any attention to other people, so it's absurd for Bush to say that it's all in the best interests of the Iraqi people.’

And yes, this is a good example of the use of the word absurd in a non-deceptive, accurate manner.

As is this

‘All those stories about that hamster and me are absurd. It was a gerbil.’


David said...

Your Hong Kong game reminds me very much of my neighbour, though she's from Malaysia, but has taken on a western first name since she's lived over here, and that's exactly how she speaks (shouts usually, so we can all hear her), though maybe without the aaah bit...
The Sherlock Holmes reminds me of how Jon Tickle from big brother talks (my #1 role model, along with Woody Allen, Uri Geller and Freud), who regularly said things like "This is not unlike a similar situation in the first Star Wars movie where Jabba the hut confronted Luke Skywalker over who had been overeating the chips", for example. Doesn't boredom sometimes create some marvellous pastimes?

Stef said...

Yes, double negatives are defintely not a losing ploy. I'm never without a couple up my sleeve.

You just sound somehow more intellectual, more aloof, more British ...