My point of view

A friend suggested the other day that I and a group of friends might like to listen to Point of View on BBC Radio 4 or read the transcript of the latest episode by Will Self.

In fact I did hear that programme more than once. On occasions I have heard an episode of Point of View three times as my radio is switched on almost 24/7 and the programme is aired on a Friday night, Sunday morning and repeated on the World Service over the weekend. BBC Radio 4 automatically switches to join the BBC World Service from 01:00 to 05:20 hours, to allow for the studio windows at Radio 4 to be opened and dissipate the hot air of the day! 😉

I had a problem with this particular episode. In fact I was rather cross by the end of it.

I don’t know Will Self personally, but he sounds like a very intelligent and highly educated person, and there is no sin in that. It is a gift that should be used to help and not condemn those less fortunate. Not everyone was born with a silver spoon dictionary in their mouth and the verbal diarrhoea to spout the contents at will. It is a gift and should be used wisely.

I would go as far as to say he actually shows little consideration (in my book) for those less educated or bright as he is. His talk gives the impression that those vocabularially challenged are lazy, not allowing for the effort it takes to read, never mind understand an article.

I am not alone in my struggle to read and understand the written word.  I have said so before, the words jump about on the page, unfamiliar words cause their own stress and I struggle to get to the end of a paragraph, never mind a chapter or book.

I read each line three times:

  • to discover the words
  • then to understand the sentence and finally
  • to reread the full paragraph.

It may sound clumsy but it works for me.

Hearing an unfamiliar multi-syllable word for the first time is a distraction that takes my attention from those that went before or follow.  Not being able to say it, never mind spell it prevents me from finding the meaning.

When I was growing up, food for the body and practical skills for everyday living were considered more important than food for my mind (books).

Will Self’s words for the week:

Sesquipedalian
Desiderata
Milt
Ineluctable
Modality
Argot
Grue
Heliotropic
Solipsism

I wonder if knowing the meaning of these words will put more food on my table or heating oil in my tank?  Will they teach me the humility of washing the feet of my neighbour?

Words & books might distract from the pains and aches in life, but only distract – a little like morphine,  we still have to live through them.

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There have been several articles recently in the blogosphere on a similar vein.  Some folk seem to  think that only intellectual offerings worthy of a Ph.D in English should be allowed web space.

I disagree.

There is room for everyone. Read if you wish, if it is not to your liking then move on and save your breath to cool your porridge!

26 thoughts on “My point of view

  1. Mike Goad

    I’ve never heard the program and don’t know that I would want to. While I am fortunate enough to be “vocabularially” capable, I understand and appreciate that it isn’t as easy for many folks. Some of the smartest people I know struggle with putting words together. One of the very worst writers I’ve worked with is now a manager of training in a large training organization.

    In college, I was a “non-traditional” student, working on and finishing my degree long after I entered the work force. I had the same professor for both semesters of freshman English. In the second semester, she told me that I should be an English major. I told her that I couldn’t take the cut in pay — not that I ever really used my degree after I got it.

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  2. shackman

    Unwarranted arrogance abounds GM. Because the words are bigger the thought/point must be bigger and more correct. Right? NOT! Being direct and getting to the point as well as explaining that point so the widest possible audience can understand it is far more important. Now there is an issue with vocabulary and the use of words between cultures – I suspect I puzzle over some of your words as you may do over mine. The same with Ramana and my UK friends. But heck – that’s half the fun of Internet friends – getting to know them and understand them.

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  3. Rummuser

    Arrogance of information/felicity with words, is an occupational hazard for people forced to endure them. You are very right that such condescension leaves a very poor taste in one’s mouth.

    I normally would simply walk away from such a speaker if I could get away without hurting some one else. In the case written about by you, I would not listen.

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  4. Grannymar Post author

    Mike – I actually like the ten minute programme ‘A Point of View’. The topic and author changes from week to week, some really provide food for thought. Some of my greatest teachers in life were ‘quiet folk’ who spoke simply and I learned without realising.

    Shackman – I agree with you about the arrogance. My colloquial expressions must cause puzzled frowns or great laughter at times, I hope the latter wins through.

    Ramana – The radio programme was fine, since I knew I had the freedom to listen or not as the case may be. The more I thought about it afterwards, I felt that I also had a voice and a point of view on the subject.

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  5. Ursula

    First of all, Grannymar, thanks for the link. I read the transcript. I’d have hated to miss it. As always I relish Will Self’s way with words, his style and his reasoning.

    I hear your anger but fear that you may make the wrong connection, as do your commentators so far. I do not believe that he looks down on anyone with a minimal, or limited, vocabulary. Mainly he appears to regret how lazy formal education has become, how few can be arsed to open a dictionary. What he argues has less to do with advocating the use of ‘grand’ words more with drawing to our attention to the diminishing of what is a rich language.

    It is a wonderful subject you (and Will Self) have drawn attention to. Alas, I don’t want to stretch your comment box to bursting point. Just one more thought, maybe worth considering: You point the finger at Will Self, but mightn’t you stand to be accused of inverse/inverted snobbery?

    U

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  6. The Old Fossil

    The use of words is an art form or a craft from some vantage points. Some use larger words to convey precision unavailable through other means. Some use them to portray lyrical, poetic beauty. Language has as many uses as there are ideas and impressions to convey.

    In most cases, simplicity and elegance fit the bill.

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  7. Grannymar Post author

    Ursula – I was cross. Not angry. I didn’t actually point a finger at Will Self, I actually said “His talk gives the impression that those vocabularially challenged are lazy, not allowing for the effort it takes to read, never mind understand an article.” I do not consider myself to be a snob inverted or otherwise. I admit and accept my difficulties, there are many more like me and we should be allowed to express ourselves in the best way we can.

    Foss – A simple daisy can be as beautiful as an extravagant bouquet.

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  8. patty

    I consider myself well read and I have never heard or recognize any of these words. Does this program come with a dictionary?

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  9. Nick

    I think intellectual stimulation is important for the soul, even if it butters no parsnips. Personally I couldn’t live without it for very long. But I agree that some people become very elitist about it and look down on people who aren’t so intellectually inclined. And it’s perfectly possible to use language more creatively without showering your readers with obscure words they don’t know the meaning of.

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  10. wisewebwoman

    Oh this is opening a bit of a can.
    I’m in love with words, always have been, love playing with them, parsing them, understanding them, and yes I understand all on the list.
    Reading, crosswords and lexulous and scrabble keep me finetuned.
    BUT and it is a very large BUT, I recognise that it is a privilege and talent to be able to use and comprehend such words and I would never use them to put down anyone else. Especially those not as privileged. One of my brothers is dyslexic and could never learn easily. He has taught me so much about other talents, not as recognised as fluency and ease of language.
    And some of my friends have been completely illiterate which gave me further understanding of the challenges others can have just to get through a day.
    XO
    WWW

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  11. Grannymar Post author

    patty – The list of words appears in the transcript link above, each has a hyperlink to a dictionary.

    Nick – I’ll have the parsnips without the butter any day! 😉

    WWW – Somewhere above I mentioned the ‘quiet folk’ who spoke simply and from whom I learned without realising, I consider you in that group.

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  12. blackwatertown

    This reminds me of reading one of my favourite books – A Time of Gifts – by Patrick Leigh Fermor – I had to keep a dictionary handy. But I love being introduced to new words – especially if they’ve only just been created. Like “broast” – very very lightly toasted bread – not toast, not any more merely bread. It’s broast. We use it in our house anyway, since my genius daughter invented it.

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  13. Grannymar Post author

    BWT – If I had to read a book with a dictionary beside it, it would take me about five years.

    Broast sounds so much better than colourless or half baked toast!

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  14. speccy

    Interesting one, GM. R and I often find one of us using a word the other is unfamiliar with- it’s nothing to do with education or snobbery, just local or family words. Langauge is rich and evolving and we can all celebrate that, without using big words just to show off 😉

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  15. Nigel

    It is Will Self who said of food programmes on TV: ” Why? it’s just s**t waiting to happen”. Quite so, and I could not have put it better myself- a man of plain and clear speaking.

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  16. Grannymar Post author

    speccy – We had lots of family words with mammy and daddy coming from different sides of the country.

    Nigel – Welcome to my blog. I no longer have television to avoid programmes of that description.

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  17. The Laughing Housewife

    I’ve never liked Will Self, if I’m honest. But in his defence, if a person knows words, they tend to assume everyone else knows them too. Or they simply enjoy using them, just as people enjoy being able to paint or cook or knit.

    I am not Self’s intellectual equal, but I am often guilty of using words that I only realise later other people might not know, especially in my blog. Sometimes I pick up on it and am tempted to edit them out, but I don’t believe in dumbing down. It’s okay not to know words you’ve never heard before, you can look them up or ignore them.

    I love learning new words; I receive a word a day from dictionary.com. One of my 101 tasks is to use 26 new words in 26 posts. It’s why I wonder if it may not be arrogance on Self’s part, but the joy of knowing language.

    A confession: I have used the word ‘Sesquipedalian’ in a poem. When I find a word I like, I like to use it 🙂

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  18. Grannymar Post author

    Tilly -I know plenty of people who cannot, cook, sew, knit or paint, but in no way would I ever say they were lazy or stupid not to do so. Everyone has a gift, and sure if everyone was a doctor…. who would empty the bins?

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  19. The Laughing Housewife

    Granny, I don’t seem to have made myself clear. What I was saying is that some people have a talent for words, just as others have talents for painting, etc. Why should people who have a talent for words not use them? was my point. I certainly was not calling anyone lazy or stupid.

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  20. Grannymar Post author

    Tilly – I didn’t mean you. In the article and in the blog posts that I read on this subject, they all gave the impression that lack of vocab was due to laziness. I don’t think so, just as not being an expert at the other skills mentioned above, is not a hanging offence. There is room for everyone.

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  21. The Laughing Housewife

    I completely agree.

    There can definitely be an arrogance from intellectuals, but it is unwarranted: all they have is book learning. My husband is not a reader and doesn’t have a huge vocabulary, but he’s one of the smartest men I know and can turn his hand to anything. I’d rather have him than Will Self in an emergency.

    You set my mind at rest because I’m with you: one of my favourite sayings to my boys is that if all the lawyers went on strike, no one would notice…but if all the binmen went on strike, everyone would notice. We have our values all wrong.

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  22. Alice

    Ditto to just about all the POVs represented above. I remember it being Winston Churchill (I think it was him) who wrote something about his choice of simple wording in his writing and public speech. He never used long words if there was a five-letter one that worked just as well! If anyone knows who really said that, or can firm WS, I hope you will. Inquiry minds would like to know.

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  23. Grannymar Post author

    Alice – I never realised Winston Churchill chose shorter words where possible, before the longer ones.

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  24. Alice

    And it’s very possible I’m dis-remembering. That’s why I asked for confirmation if anyone knew for sure. I remembering reading it a small book a long time ago; I thought it was Churchill’s tiny book about his painting in his later years, but I couldn’t find it there. But I do know that it influenced me quite a bit in my own writing when I realized you don’t need to have big words in your vocabulary to be a good writer or even to sound intelligent. To this day I look extra hard at writers and speakers who use “big words.” Are they trying to show off? Or is that the way they really talk in their environment. Either could be true.

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  25. Grannymar Post author

    Alice – I went a searching and found the following:

    All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. ~ Sir Winston Churchill

    Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all. ~ Sir Winston Churchill

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