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Returning to Simplicity

There is a temptation that is second nature to lawyers, writers and other professionals like me who stretch words for a living. It is a bias in favour of the polysyllable. It hails from an instinct to complicate the simple in order to make a career out of an advocacy everyone might otherwise be tempted into practicing in their own behalf. Where indulged, that temptation has given birth to the greatest bombasts the social circuit will see.


At the approach of the bombastic, the average heart will fail. Conversation quickens; no one is anxious to drop the ball, for our friend will slide into the breach at the slightest opportunity and won't cede the stage again. What is a grandiloquent's conversation but a piecing together, one after the other, of one impressive word after the other; a seeking for a prosodic melody in a commotion of emptied words. One simple idea is taken and dressed in regalia too grand for words. Thus fettered, it will fail to communicate. His conversation is a cross of endurance that only the most long-suffering can bear.

Tripping from the tongue of bombast, words will put rabbits to shame. The bombastic writer is a master of the art of the cloned adjective. So, rather than the snappy and transparent Biblical paragraph 'Jesus wept' we might have: 'The Great, Venerable Prince of Peace indulged a Lachrymal weakness.' His conversation is hackneyed and proud. He has perfected the trick of hogging dialogue: speeding up between the end of one sentence and the start of the next - and slowing, almost into a stall, in the middle of a sentence, as his mind thrashes round for the next idea on which to gallop away with our time. His mouth is able to get a foot in the door while his mind is still asleep, consequently, much of all he says will sound the same. He may begin: ‘In all honesty, taking the matter from it's foundation, we must admit that facts are facts and this is without prejudice to whomsoever's ox is gored…' After this, his mind having kicked in, our hero can then proceed to deliver an opinion on anything under the sun.

In the presence of the bombastic, we are most conscious of passing time. We are also conscious that should we doze off (a fair risk) and be elbowed thirty minutes hence for a reply, it would be perfectly in order to respond: 'Exactly!'

Every cocktail clot of two or more persons deserves a fundamental right to silence, which should only be broken with good cause. It is hardly good cause to speak for the enjoyment of the sound of one's own voice. One of the lesser tragedies of society is the sight of sundry groups of people bound by their own civilities (or by a collegiate requirement for the grant of a diploma!) to the indulgence of tedium.

Much bombast will disappear if writers had to pay a toll for every word they used, rather than the other way round. Uncanny how just enough newsworthy events occur, day after day, to fill every inch and column of every newspaper. Curious, what would happen if every periodical became an occasional, hitting the newsstands only when it was necessary…

The primary function of bombast is obfuscation. (Will war destroy the innocent? The unpalatable answer: Yes. The bombastic reply: A victim's equitable response to the wanton and unprovoked aggression of a satanic enemy will achieve victory along with collateral damage causatively linked to the aggressor.)

Bombast is the verbal waffling that results when the passion to speak or write predates an acute message.

Speaking of which, most to be feared are people that abide the bombastic. A bombastic book ought to be closed and forgotten. A conversation inflated with bombast ought to be punctured by taciturn queries. Soliloquys delivered outside the theatre should be interrupted by yawns and journeys to refresh the glass of juice. Since boring television speeches are slept through without compunction, this is the challenge for live ones. Those that gracefully abide the bombastic are closet admirers, silently nursing their cache of words until they can debut with verbal gymnastics of their own. How innocuous is that stretch of country between hearing and echoing. It is a territory of people recruited (perhaps by prizes, reputations and the like) to apply themselves to the reading of bombast, until, like smokers hooked by the sting in the Ten Day Test, they are themselves addicted.

Returning home to the simple.

Complex thoughts may require complex words to elucidate them, but most complex thoughts are simple aggregations of surmountable truths. At the base of the largest superstructure is the atom. At the crux of communication is the concept that simple thoughts should be expressed in simple words. Parsimony is the most beautiful adornment that cluttered conversation can wear. A parsimonious essay has its merits asserted by a single diamond, where the bombastic one is weighed down by riotously coloured skeins of costume jewellery.

Bombastic utterances constipate their hearers. The words are difficult to digest, the sense of them impossible to distil. Eventually, everything is voided. Nothing of value is left in the mind of the hearers who stagger out of the mental intercourse like weak-kneed commuters piling out of a boneshaker.

A simple utterance is an aid to understanding, as opposed to a course of hurdles to be negotiated in an obstacle race for enlightenment. Hardly is the utterance complete when crystal clarity is achieved. No word can be voided without risk to the message. No word is a frill, none is purely aesthetic. Each word is cogent, has meaning, lends balance. In simplicity is surprise: that so little can mean so much. That a world-view can be challenged so effortlessly. That the magical association of meagre ha'penny words can be so ennobling, and so enfranchising.

The silences of a simple communicator are friendly. They are part of the message. They are the drink of cold water that follows the spicy meal. The pause for thought that engages the spoken word.

At the approach of the simple communicator, hearts will lift. His casual dialogue is not competitive. The object of his communication is substance, not impression. His vehicle is courtesy. There is friendship in the air. His Spartan style reflects respect for his listener's time. At the end of dialogue, there is warmth and gratitude in the heart. Simple communicators develop passionate friends they have never met, everywhere their message is read. Nods of assent and satisfaction attend the reading of an effective essay. When the last word is read, the reader can look back to the first and apprehend with crystal clarity, the sense - the beautiful sense - of all he has read.

And even where a notion fails to seduce a reader, it is impossible to vex with the beautiful…

© Chuma Nwokolo, Jr.


"...The silences of a simple communicator
are friendly, the drink of cold water
follows the spicy meal...."

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©2006 Chuma Nwokolo, Jr.