Big Words

Conrad Black. I shall tell you what I know about him; I shall not Google him first. Here we go:

Not much.

I know that he's a Canadian publishing magnet. (Some of you may even say magnate. Fussy.) I know that he's married to Barbara Amiel, stylish right-wing columnist. I know that he is an English Lord (Canadian birthplace be damned). I know that he is (was? former?) CEO of Hollinger. I know that he's in trouble related to some alleged financial jiggery-pokery. He's presently on trial, in fact.

Do I like him? Do I dislike him? Well, up until one week ago, I was completely neutral. I was Sweden. I was beige. I was pH 7 on the subject of Conrad Black. I was 21 degrees Celsius. I would have been an excellent juror.

I don't know a lot about his alleged crimes and what I do know doesn't worry me much. I can't pretend to be interested; the news of his trial is, to me, soporific.

I did read something last week, however, that moved me off my neutral stance. I've become... if not Sweden, then Denmark, perhaps. Pink. pH 8. Nearly 22 degrees C. Not a lot of movement, you'll notice, but something.

It was this delightful article by Ian Brown, which appeared in the June 16th edition of the The Globe and Mail. It's called "Vocabulary: Are we losing our lexicon?" and it's well worth reading in full.

Brown opens by stating that Black's lawyer (Brown and Black! That's funny!), Edward Greenspan, won't let Black take the stand. And it's for quite an interesting reason:

The problem is Mr. Black's fondness for whacking big words: tricoteuses (knitters of yarn, used to describe reporters and gossips, augmented by the adjective "braying"), planturous (fleshy), poltroon (a coward, a.k.a. former Quebec premier Robert Bourassa), spavined (lame), dubiety (doubt: Mr. Black rarely uses a simple word where a splashy lemma will do), gasconading (blustering) and velleities (distant hopes), to list just a few of his verbal smatterings. Mr. Greenspan fears the Lord's lingualism will turn off the jury.

I like Conrad (may I call you Conrad?) for this. It's reason enough, isn't it? It's odd that Greenspan is concerned Conrad will "turn off" the jury. I bet they'd love it.


richard said...

"I've got street cred / Cuz I do not deceive" - doo doo dum dah, dah dum dah doo...

Brown on Black and Greenspan, you must be loving it.

But Black's real problem isn't that the jury wouldn't "get him" because of his words (though they might not), but because he's likely to pull a Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. He needs to look, for the jury, like someone who earns things, but he has a habit of seeming to feel entitled.

Zootenany Hoodlum said...

you know, fiona, you really crack me up. I loved this post.

fiona-h said...

why, thank you!

richard said...

Did you forward this on to Language Log? Could be your chance at the coveted hat tip....

An interesting thing about the case for me is a quirk in Illinois law (since it's occurring in Chicago). After the testimony is over, the prosecution gives its summation, then the defence gives its own, as is usual -- but then the prosecution gets to rebut the defence's summation, point by point. Fascinating place, Illinois!

Mark Hanington said...

Anybody who uses language his or her audience cannot understand is trying to display knowledge, not convey it.

String him up for that, I say.

Darren said...

"Anybody who uses language his or her audience cannot understand is trying to display knowledge, not convey it."


Mr. Kite said...

I agree with Mark's comment.