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Open Features: "There's Less In This Than Meets The Eye''

Wendy Ogbourne voices an impassioned (tongue-in-cheek?) plea for the return of the golden days when the pen truly was mightier than the sword.

Thank you, dear friends, thank you for inviting me, for giving me the accolade of your attendance. I look at you all, your gaze trained on me in eager anticipation, and hope that I can ignite in you the inextinguishable spark that leads me ever onwards in my quest. I speak of course of the glory of language, the ineffable delectability of the use of our mother tongue as not only a tool for understanding, but an addiction to the very senses.

There is, of course, less in this than meets the eye, or in fact, the ear. Or perhaps, to make my meaning indubitably clear, I should say there’s more in this than the mind can comprehend. It is a sad fact that the wonders of language and literature are no longer a part of the daily or nightly reading matter of the general populace – the Man-in-the-Street, the Mums-and-Dads, or Joe-the-Plumber. No longer are we uplifted at every turn by mellifluous phrases, by resounding rhetoric or entertained by the gentle art of dinner-table conversation. Instead our eyes and ears are bombarded continually by the tritest of propaganda, the most mundane of catchphrases, the most banal of utterances, which barely manage to import the most necessary amount of information, let alone add anything to our enjoyment of the daily round.

Allow me to say that many of those who consider themselves to be educated, our leaders, believe that it denotes intellectual superiority to produce an interminable string of multi-syllabic words, which merely succeed in totally baffling their bemused audience. Happily I am not one of those.

On the other hand there are those who take delight in the strangulation of language until it loses all will to live. Today our youth know nothing of nuance, of metaphor, of allegory, of understatement. Even the wit of puns is beyond their comprehension. They converse among themselves as our stone age ancestors did, in grunts or generic inanities - “whatever,” they say, “y’know”, “duh!”

Those of you who have gathered with me here today - I beg you to unite against these terrible degradations of our times. We must declare war on the gobbledegook of bureaucrats, on the convoluted discombobulations of politicians, on the trite and meaningless utterances of those who pass for celebrities in our modern culture, of the clicking of machines in the hands of our future generations. We must become evangelists of the spoken and written word in its highest form. We must knock on the doors of those who do not wish to open them, even those who pretend not to be at home; we must stand on street corners and accost passers-by to sign petitions; we must bombard our civic leaders with phone calls just as they are sitting down to their evening meal; we must give them no quarter, allow them no loophole of defence; we must fight them on the beaches; we must never surrender. Let our task, nay our jihad, be as vanguards of the love of words, and the ecstasy that love of words can bring.

It pains me to observe that some of you here are beginning to shuffle in your seats, to stifle yawns, to nudge your neighbours. You doubt our ability to bring back the golden days when the joy of words was the highest goal of all but the most underprivileged among us. I tell you it is not so. Beauty of expression, which delights the eye and sings in our ears, is within the grasp of all. Take courage, my friends, for if you are not with us, you are against us. I have a dream, and for that dream I dedicate my life. Together, we will return to the days when the pen was truly mightier than the sword, when words were king, and to be a true wordsmith was the greatest of all callings.

© Wendy Ogbourne 2009

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