461 CHRONICLESnbaldish comedian, alternately harassednand humored by a judge and a bailiff,nattempts to raise his right hand, swear onna Bible, remove his derby, and hold ontonhis cane. Curly brought to his befuddlementnneither the pathos of Chaplin nornthe wit of Fields — although he is unquestionablynlikable, decent, and competent.nMr. Warhol’s genius, meanwhile, wasnasserted with casual authority by thenNew York Times: “The combination ofnhis genius and [his followers’] energynproduced dozens of notorious eventsnthroughout his career.” Genius? Campbellnsoup cans, Brillo boxes, a moviencalled Eat in which the artist RobertnIndiana takes 45 minutes to consume anmushroom? Notorious events, unquestionably.nBut genius?nPerhaps, like me, the reader is sufficientlynantique to recall a time whenngenius was normally reserved for thatnrare soul who, in Dr. Johnson’s phrase,n”can do readily what no one else can donat all” — people on the order of Shakespeare,nMichelangelo, Rembrandt, Bach,nNewton, Tolstoy, and Einstein; people,nin short, possessing what the dictionaryndefines as “transcendent intellectual orncreative power.” The tribe has nevernbeen numerous — to hear the term appliednnot only to the Curlys and AndynWarhols but to professional footballncoaches. Method Acting instructors, ad-nFor Immediate ServicenChroniclesnNEW SUBSCRIBERSnTOLL FREE NUMBERn1-800-435-0715nILLINOIS RESIDENTSn1-800-892-0753nvertising copywriters, fashion designers,nhairdressers, et al., makes me long fornthe days when transcendent intellectualnor creative power wasn’t thought of as ancivil right. Even the limited humility ofnMr. Noel Coward comes to mind: “Inbelieve that since my life began / Thenmost I’ve had is just a talent to amuse,”nhe said. “Talent,” not “genius.”nTo be sure, genius is only the latestnvictim of our inflated verbal economy, innwhich the hypester has replaced thenhipster as our chief minter of language.n”Super” is a term now used so extensivelynthat it has all the force of “passable” orn”OK.” “Superstar” has replaced “star”n(a term good enough for Jesse Owensnand Joan Crawford but apparently notnfor Carl Lewis and Jane Fonda) and isneven now giving way to “megastar.”n”Existential” has never meant preciselynanything, but is now used to meann”heroically exciting in a dull, philosophicnway” — as in “the existential dramas ofnLina Wertmiiller.” And “excellence”nhas now become the solemn rallying crynof at least 5,000 advertising clients, eagernto describe their mediocrity, as in thenU.S. Post Oflice claim “We deliver excellencenfor less.”nPerhaps saddest of all is what hasnhappened to “Renaissance man.” Timenwas, the term described someone likenThomas Jefferson, of whom a biographernwrote: “a gentleman of thirty-two whoncould calculate an eclipse, survey annestate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try ancause, break a horse, dance a minuet,nand play the violin.” Today a Renaissancenman is anyone who can spell, fillnout a tax form, and tell the differencenbetween Chateauneuf de Pape and Ripple.nTo keep a useful word like genius,nthen, from further degeneration, let menoffer some suggestions that may possess,nif not excellence, at least utility. After all,nbetter to light a candle than curse thenmegadarkness:nFirst, don’t refer to any of your familynor friends as a genius. It’ll only makenthem suspicious, and besides, most of usnhave never seen a genius, let alone satnacross from one. If any of your friendsninsist they’ve seen a genius, make themnproduce evidence of their subject’s abilitynto do unusual things with Campbellnsoup cans and Brillo boxes.nSecond, before you describe your favoritencosmetics-industry novelist ornnightclub comedian as a genius, ask ifnperhaps he or she couldn’t better bennndescribed as a qualified genius, a geniusnwith an adjective. Charles Dickens, fornexample, while he may lack the stature ofna genius pure and simple, can quitenlegitimately be called a “comic genius.”nSo, for that matter, can Charlie Chaplin.nYour nightclub comedian, however,nprobably can’t. Be careful.nThird, if you should happen across anlegitimate Renaissance man, don’t complicatenhis life by calling him a genius.nJefferson, William Morris, and thenMajor Robert Gregory so beautifullynpraised in Yeats’s famous poem wouldneach better be described as “a man ofngenius” — someone possessing an extraordinarynrange of powers but not sonoverwhelmingly gifted in any one departmentnas to tower above the field. Innany case, your chances of meeting annauthentic Renaissance man are probablynabout the same as your chances of runningninto Judge Crater in a shoppingnmall.nFinally, if you’re one of those peoplenwhose mental metabolism requires themnto say “genius” at least several times anweek, try using it in such modest possessivenconstructions as the following,nwhere it’ll immediately be clear you’rennot employing the term in any seriousnsense: “France has a genius for makingntourists feel welcome”; “ShirleynMacLaine has a genius for simplifyingncomplex international relationships”;n”Ronald Reagan has a genius for controllingnsubordinates.”nSeveral years ago, as I was taking innthe excellence of litter that fills thenstreets in the city of Supermayor EdnKoch, my eye was suddenly caught by anNew York Post scarehead proclaimingnPolish beauty seized at United Nations.nApart from the ambiguity of the verb—nhad she been crudely grabbed by somenmacho passerby? kidnapped? arrested?n— I was curious to have a look at thisnSlavic Venus and quickly plunked downnmy 35 cents. Those who recall MarianOuspenskaya as the elderly gypsy in thenold “Wolf Man” movies can perhapsnbest appreciate my disappointment whennI flipped to the picture inside, for thoughnthe Polish “beauty” was somewhatnyounger than Miss Ouspenskaya, hernaesthetic impact was roughly the same.nEven if she was no beauty, though, shenmight well be a genius.nJohn Martin writes from Brooklyn.n