The language of fools

By Paul Flower on May 31, 10 07:45 PM

I don't suffer fools gladly. Who does? Who amongst us covets the companionship of cretins? When you've got time to spare, are you likely to waste it in the company of idiots, and then be pleased to have done so? No-one does this deliberately.

It's an unlikely and unlikeable idiom to begin with. The very fact that you're suffering suggests that it's not an experience you'll be enjoying. It's a uniquely English phrase I suspect, one that obfuscates the obvious meaning for the purposes of politeness. Perhaps the true meaning of being someone who doesn't suffer fools gladly is that you're actually a bit of an arse. Not only do you not suffer fools gladly, you possibly don't welcome the company of many others at all.

Why should we? As Sartre famously said: "Hell is other people", and being French I guess he should know. Of course what he actually said was "L'enfer, c'est les autres", which is almost the same but in a different language. Like the fools idiom we can probably distort the original meaning to make it fit our own interpretation, but only because too few people in this country would be able to translate it. We're mostly all fools in that respect.

I've always loved the nuances of the language; it's a great shame that we don't use our given tongue effectively. In 2010 we are increasingly monosyllabic and the vagaries of text and twitter make us abbreviate rather than use English at its most beautiful. We shouldn't be expected to understand the French if we can barely translate the English.

I once read Norman Mailer, it was a phase I was going through, he commented that it was a miracle that any of us could understand each other given the variety and complexity of the human mind and the flexibility of the language. I've probably paraphrased that into nonsense, but it struck a chord at the time.

I often find myself trying to pare down my writing into an easily explicable form. It's not easy, as I frequently forget that the bulk of those who might read it may have no concept of the references that I might draw upon. Does this lead us to 'dumb down' in the aim of finding the widest possible audience or do we continue to plough a narrow path and hope to appeal to the limited numbers of others who are on our wavelength?

Maybe the fools have a point, they probably don't care. Ignorance is bliss they say, and for once they may be right.

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