A warped conception of elitism has made oratory skills despised
I am writing this dispatch from the birthplace of “oracy,” the art of public speaking, first perfected by the Athenian Demosthenes, a speaker so eloquent and influential he managed to force the great Aristotle to move back to Macedonia, his birthplace. Demosthenes did not like nor trust northern Greeks like Aristotle and his pupil, one Alexander the Great. It was akin to the same distrust that many American Southerners felt for the interfering Northerners circa 1861.
Oracy, needless to say, is a skill equal to numeracy and literacy, one mastered at school in my day, but judging by today’s public speakers, no longer taught at any level. Only last week, sitting in a London café, I took out my notebook while three attractive young American women babbled away nonstop. I felt a bit like Henry Higgins in Shaw’s Pygmalion jotting down Eliza Doolittle’s cockney outbursts. One of the three women noticed what I was doing and asked me rather coldly why. “I’m counting the times you use the word ‘like,’” I answered her. I did not dare tell her I was a linguist—which I am not—because they might have called the fuzz, thinking that a linguist is some kind of sexual pervert.
The great Tom Wolfe once wrote while reviewing a collection of my writings that Americans cannot compete with the Brits in public speaking because the latter are examined orally in school, whereas the Yankees merely have to write their answers down. It made sense. Educated Englishmen are, above anything else, very good speakers. Americans can be, like, like, you know, like… you know, and so on.
When I look back at my youth and my education at an American private school for boys, public speaking was a popular subject taken even by jocks like myself, anxious to avoid science, math, and other difficult majors. In class we had to read aloud poems or passages of literature and at times we had to read speeches written by our little old selves. Captains of sports had to review the year and theirindividual sport at the end of each term in front of the whole school, and so public speaking was a handy skill to aquire. Without it, jocks on scholarships were notoriously inarticulate, and they remain so to this day.
Needless to say, the debating society was crawling with wimps who preferred to jaw rather than fight. But looking back, my sore soccer knees and numerously operated on wrestling shoulders convince me that the wimps were smart and we the jocks were dumb. In today’s climate, possessing the ability to speak well is a social negative; one can be accused of putting on airs, especially if the f-word is left unsaid. It is also dangerous for teachers to teach things pupils might not relate to. Worst of all, of course, is the invention of trigger warnings, a system that allows students to remain as dumb or grow even dumber by doing away with all difficult subjects, like Shakespeare, for example. Safe spaces, ditto; another invention by the woke mob to allow students to remain uneducated or to become stupider.
It all has to do with an inverted elitism, of the kind practiced by ghastly lefties who write lies for The New York Times and who spread lies in reporting the news on television. This warped and degenerate elitism wants the scope of teaching to be narrowed, high standards of word use, elocution, and presentation to be done away with and replaced by “ordinary” speech, in other words, to dumb discourse down to the level of the uneducated.
But let’s put it another way: When was the last time you saw a movie where the hero spoke well, like an aristocrat? If you watch Turner Classic Movies, you’ve heard actors articulate and pronounce their verbs beautifully. In today’s films, eloquent speech usually means the person is up to no good, a phony and a crook.
Today’s actors mumble on cue. When was the last time you heard and understood every word pronounced in a recently made movie? The inability to speak well was once upon a time a great hurdle to overcome. Yes, it was unfair, because not everyone could afford to send their children to a posh school where they learned to speak clearly and to get their ideas across. But in today’s schools, pupils are taught that speaking properly is elitist, snobby, and not with the times.
Tiers of British society were always separated by manners of speech. It is still split, but the other way round. A posh accent today is suspect when applying for a job; a working-class or regional accent is the winning ticket. America never suffered from such class distinctions and its regional accents are a joy, at least for this writer who loves Southern drawls. But an extreme regional accent does not exclude oracy, and in the past there were great American public speakers of all accents.
F-ing this and f-ing that has become the lingua franca of today’s celebrities. Needless to say, all this f-ing does is show how limited in brain power these freaks really are. Masters of the devastating retort, these inarticulate vulgarians are not. Learn to speak clearly and you will have no limits.