You find yourself caught in the rampage of a hormonal she-devil. She utters, “You are a total loser.”
Pause. Society tells you that in order to be effective, your retort must be timely. The words “Your mom is a total loser” escape your lips.
Your adversary smirks; she has won this battle. In seeking to gain points through efficiency, you lost the meat of the insult.
This exchange underscores one of the tragic losses of modern existence. We have placed efficiency higher than “luxuries” such as creativity. We cast aside adverbs, adjectives and all manner of descriptive speaking in search of getting to our points swiftly and safely. In so doing, we forfeit texture and color.
The Shakespearean era marked the zenith of the English language. An insult hurled in that age had the force of a brick, the bite of a piranha. No one worried about the repercussions of political incorrectness, and rolling lists of adjectives were merrily added to any sentence. It was a fearless age.
Today we cower. Our expression is as monotonous as the drone of a snowblower, with only the occasional ice chunk providing a modicum of conflict and drama.
Shakespeare lived in a colorful world of paunchy, rump-fed, beef-witted death-tokens; ours seems infested with ugly, fat morons.
We fear words of description. While I understand that a list of adjectives pertaining to a brown, geometric, wooden, stationary, solid, dull, lifeless, bland, immobile, four-legged, inactive, unexciting, average chair may be tedious to read — what’s to stop us from elaborating on our deranged, certifiably unhinged, yet surprisingly placid aunt on our father’s side?
I implore you to seek out adjectives beyond “good,” “bad,” “lame,” “cool” and “awkward.” They express little passion, and the frequency of their occurrence in our everyday conversations simply bores me. Even the urban chic “phat” and “chill” have achieved a state of tedium via overuse. And don’t get me started on texting.
The Bard left a veritable handbook on turning such mundane terms into pejorative artwork with his painterly use of the hyphen. His compound constructions sparkle like diamonds in the pantheon of aspersions. The next time an unwelcome visitor comes knocking on your door, feel free to pair your humdrum adjectives as follows: “Fie upon thee, thou good-doing, bad-smelling, semi-lame, cool-hearted, awkward-talking wart.”
Better? Methinks yes.
Though Shakespeare was famous for meter, his sense of timing relied upon the dramatic pause. The pause served not only to build suspense, but allowed enough time to demolish an enemy with words sufficiently cutting to make the Magic Bullet self-conscious.
We are taught that efficiency is key; that in order to be effective, we need to be concise. “Phui,” say I to that logic. There is nothing more antagonizing than listening to someone who speaks with the sole purpose of relaying information.
If we want to be in relationships with one another, we need to saturate our speech with our opinions and do so by means of descriptive words. Vocal inflection is one thing, but when a tone of disgust is paired with terms such as repulsive, nauseating or abhorrent, the world becomes a glittering place of clarity.
So forgo the instantaneous response. I beg you, good sir or madam, take time to consider the matter you wish to discuss. This will allow you to successfully get your point across, and do so in a way that grabs people’s attention. Be patient. Let the vitriol percolate and froth before letting loose. You will be satisfied.
Let’s revisit our initial scenario. Your unimaginative challenger has called you a loser and you have limply said the same about her mother. Rewind. Longer pause. The words “Swim with leeches, thou unmuzzled, unchin-snouted maggot-pie” proudly take flight from your tongue.
Your opponent stands dumbfounded in front of you, unsure what to do next, and walks away with her head hung in shame.
Jackie Lawyer is a student at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School.