Wednesday 11 April 2012

Rhetoric after breakfast

inspirational - it's great to be inspirational and all sorts of people can be it. You have to be enthusiastic, creative and philosophical. I 'aspire' to be 'inspirational' and sometimes make it. People have pointed out, however, the word is supposed to be 'inspiring' but 'inspiring' doesn't last as long as 'inspirational' so it's not so 'inspirational'. I've forgotten why it's supposed to be 'inspiring'. If it's 'inspiring' it should, presumably, help you to breathe in, while if it's 'inspirational' it should, presumably help you get inspiration or a big blast of breathed in air.

feedback, comeback and come back to me on that one, and I'll get back to you one that one - interesting cluster of feeds, comes and gets here. They're all related but slightly different. 'Give me feedback' or 'I'll give you feedback' sounds like good busywork stuff, whereas 'I'll get back to you on that one' is good delaying tactics. It probably means that you've 'kicked it into touch' (Rugby term). I rather like 'feedback' because it reminds me that it's what human beings do with each other all the time even when we don't know we're doing it, nodding, looking, gesturing, reacting etc and we then respond to the feedback in some kind of endless loop of reflexivity. (I think I'll copyright that phrase now that I've written it: 'endless loop of reflexivity').

left field - this is a baseball term like 'step up to the plate' which is what we all do nowadays. 'Left field' means that it's a bit heterodox, a bit of a surprise intervention. It can be used to dampen down divergent thinking or to praise it. It can be related to off the wall which seems to mean a bit crazy as well as being a bit 'left field'. Interesting that these descriptions are all about place. Left field off the wall is probably 'far out' (sixties hippy term that seems to have died along with 'come over to my pad'.

mutually exclusive - I can remember the little chirp of delight I gave when I first met this phrase. I think I was about 16 and didn't know that such a complicated idea (as I thought then) could be expressed so compactly. Its meaning is somewhere near 'contradiction', I think: the idea that if you hold these two ideas in your hand at the same time (if you could hold ideas in your hand) they would either knock each other out, or one would knock the other out. Basically, they can't live together. Didn't Bono say something about that?

riff - this term seems to be adapted, misused and recycled from musicianspeak. In rhetoric, people who write about stand-up comedy talk about someone 'going off on a riff about...' meaning a run of memories, gags and chat on a given subject. You can also say, 'he was riffing about...' analogous to adlibbing or impro-ing.  I think this irritates musicians who say that the 'riff' isn't the impro. The impro is the impro. The riff is the thing you impro about. Don't make musicians angry or they'll...

give you aggro - meaning literally aggressive behaviour (a term made up by 70s 'skinheads' I think)  but this has weakened to meaning not much more than a general moan or

whinge or kvetsh (Yiddish, Yinglish), or whine. See Australian gag at time of high immigration from the UK: 'How do you know that the plane on the runway is full of Poms?' 'The whining goes on after the engine's been switched off.' (Brits were famous in Australia for moaning about everything. Well, it is bloody hot. Oh, now I've done it.). At some point in 1994 parents stopped saying to their children, 'Don't moan' and started saying, 'Don't whinge'. A law must have been passed on it.

pottymouth seems to have come via TV comedy and chat. Maybe Stephen Fry made it up. It's an example of making something sound trivial by attaching it to childhood. So someone could direct a volley of abuse at you eg 'Fuck off you wanker'  and you could offer the put-down 'Ooooh, pottymouth.' Note here though that what comes out of you in the form of waste gets implicated in insult, violence and sometimes sexual terms. All quite messy really. Exactly.