Monday, April 27, 2009

Confound it all

I read a piece by Richard Glover in the SMH a week or two ago deriding the language pedant. Glover opened with:

One day, during my show on ABC radio, I shall summon up my courage and say it: "The Nazi Party were right for killing all those communists, homosexuals and Jews." I know I will get complaints. People will be very, very upset. Some will be almost apoplectic with rage.

"I expected better of the ABC," they will say. "You fail to understand that the 'Nazi Party' is a collective noun and should thus be followed by the word 'was'. I await your apology by return post."

Glover's point being, of course, that the language police are more concerned with grammatical errors than content.

Good point well made, as my hero of late '90s sketch shows Shaun Micallef used to say.

Anyhoo, Glover's piece wound through some common errors the language police often seize upon, like 'PIN number,' 'ATM machine' and 'potato's', and I confess I've spent many a gleeful hour chortling over misspelt, mis-punctuated and mis-written menus ("Try our samosa's! You will love it!"), but I do think form is there to assist meaning, not to shine a torch up its own, uh-hm, colon.

But I've found this week that there are sentences that, although they appear to have form and content, are completely devoid of meaning, like this little gem below. Could I trouble you to read it with me?

In his conclusion to [Blah Blah Blah], Mr Blah Blah describes the "decentering" of modern consciousness as the standpoint of the ironic, antimetaphorical mode. Against this "lack of central plenitude," melodrama "represents a refusal of this vertiginous but possibly liberating decentering, a search for a new plenitude, an ethical recentering".

Does anyone know what that means? My best guess is: "I ate my sandwich too fast and sometimes I like to wear yellow undies". I think the bit about ethical recentering at the end might be about the RSPCA but I can't be sure.

So my question is, what do you do with sentences where meaning and good sense are wholly absent? Is it best to just open the gate and let them wander onto the road?


squib said...

My brain has just imploded, thanks Kettle

That brought back terrible memories of my undergraduate years in English and Comparative Literature

The horror!

Kettle said...

It's such a silly way to write, hey Squib. The thing that kills me is that the chap who wrote it must have read it one last time and thought "yep, that's exactly what I want to say. Now it's ready for that journal!"

Miles McClagan said...

And then Micallef played the opening credits to Billy Anachronism?

I miss him...

Kettle said...

Ah mercy Miles! I had forgotten about Billy! Thanks for the memory on a Monday night.

I liked Micallef way back when. I'm not sure I can bring myself to watch his new show, that naffness about the generations... I'm betting the opening episode includes something about Gen X'ers being cynical and Baby Boomers spending the kids' inheritance. Guffaw guffaw - not.