or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, November 13, 2009

Don't Know, Don't Care

The Internet has made nearly every simple fact discoverable by nearly everybody. There isn't any excuse for saying you don't know the surface area of Lake Tanganyika (32,900 square kilometres) or the number of novels Herman Melville wrote (eleven), because you can find out these things in a matter of seconds. If you are a bad speller and can't make your way to the end of Tanganyika or Melville, Google will even make suggestions to correct your spelling.

What this means in practical terms is that the figure of speech known as aporia is in some kind of trouble. Aporia is the casting of doubt on something, whether it be for the purposes of expressing false modesty ("I do not know if I am equal to the task of describing the beauty of Lake Tanganyika...."), evoking sympathy ("Wherever shall I go? Whatever shall I do?"*), or making people laugh (or at least amusing them a little).

That was presumably Ramin Setoodah's aim in the online Newsweek article Kings of Queens, in which he poses a question:

Even if you've never seen glee, the Fox dramedy with show tunes in its veins and opera in its nervous system, you probably know that it's TV's gayest product since Richard Simmons. Last week's episode centered on a singing contest of "Defying Gravity," the anticonformity anthem from Wicked, every tween girl's favorite musical. The contestants: Rachel the glee-club diva vs. Kurt the, um—what's the male version of diva?

What indeed? All you have to do is Google "male diva" and the very first link will give you the answer: "divo". "Diva" is the Italian word for "goddess"; the male version predictably ends with an "-o", because it is a pretty good rule** that if you have a word in Italian that ends in "-a", it refers to a female, and if there is going to be a male version, then it will end in "-o", as in Paula/Paulo or bella/bello.

Even if you don't know that, you can still find out the answer to the question, and this is why that particular brand of comic aporia doesn't work any more: because if you write "if that even is a word" or the like, people are going to think you're lazy or stupid, because they can Google it, and so can you.

I think it's high time we retired that particular figure of speech. It hasn't been all that funny for some time, and now it just marks the writer as someone who simply couldn't be bothered.

*This line, spoken by Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind", did not work on its intended target, since Rhett Butler's reply was, famously, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

**It may even be a one hundred per cent correct and invariable rule, but I am not going to do the research to find out, at least not right now, because that is not a simple fact that will quickly yield itself to the penetrating gaze of Google, and it is very late besides.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found this on Wikipedia's article on Grammatical Gender:

It would however be far more useful to consider that the grammatical gender of almost all nouns in the Romance languages is determined by etymology, that is to say that on the whole, the gender of a word in Spanish, Italian or French is the same as the gender of its congnate word in Latin with very few exceptions.

Saturday, November 14, 2009 1:37:00 AM  
Blogger D.J. said...

Reading along, my mental commentary was the same as it always is on your usage posts: "With him... uh-huh... with him..." right until I got to the end.

I have found my life to be a lot less stressful since I adopted the heuristic "Nobody can be bothered." It certainly makes it easier to read certain websites, Salon. And when I run across someone who obviously has taken the time to assemble his thoughts into a coherent argument and take some care in their presentation, it's a pleasant surprise.

Sunday, November 15, 2009 8:35:00 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

Sorry for the OT comment, pyramus, but I couldn't find your email.

I'm planning on asking for Santa for an English etymological dictionary, but don't really know what one to ask for. What would be your recommendation for a good, strong, basic etymological dictionary of the English language?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 10:40:00 PM  
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