The following piece is a response to Sam Leith’s article ‘Other Men’s Flowers‘
Let me be clear on the onset that its not that I did not understand what Leith is trying to say in his piece, ‘Other Men’s Flowers’. Having said that, if I was the editor of New York Times, I would have agreed to give him that platform to publish his article only on one condition, that the title of his piece be, ‘Other Men’s BS’ because that is essentially what it is.
Now this may seem offensive or disrespectful, however I found Leith being equally offensive and disrespectful when he tries so hard to impress with his haughty and esoteric writing style only to project his ‘command’ over language.
Leith assumes that the reader knows who Cicero is. He used words such as gnarly, seethe, alliterative, assonant, iambic pentameter, perambulations – and what was the point?
Here are few substitutes what could have perhaps made better sense instead:
Gnarly: difficult, dangerous or challenging
Seethe: churn, boil, bubble, forth, fume, rage, teem, swarm
Perambulation: patrol, round, beat, tour, watch, guard,
I mean seriously, someone who already knows Cicero and “iambic pentameter” will have no need to read what Leith has to say, since their intellectual knowledge base would be way ahead.
Furthermore, what is the purpose of using phrases such as, “But, pilgrim, be not afraid” and “The trick, in a formal context, is to use it effectively”?
In fact, he exposed his shallow depth of understanding, meaning and purpose of language the moment he used the word “trick”. Think about it, when does anyone use any tricks? A magician uses tricks to enchant and mesmerize the audience with his ‘tricks’. He creates an illusion of something often by hiding something in plain sight. And Leith here is clearly suggesting the use of ‘tricks’ while communicating. What is his compulsion to create an illusion? Only to hide something in plain sight. And this exactly what Leith is doing, hiding his shallow intellectual grasp of communication by using obscure and ambiguous language.
The essence of language is to convey ideas and thoughts to the audience – in this case the readers – not confuse or complicate matters. Leith’s bio under the article describes him as “a writer and critic whose latest book is ‘Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric From Aristotle to Obama’”. And this is perhaps the root of his esoteric language style, since he is struggling too hard to impress upon the readers. Indeed words can be ‘loaded pistols’ and I don’t want to be in the line of fire of Leith’s pistol (words) neither am I interested in being his target (customer for his book) so he can practice his shooting skills. I would rather say miles away from his “loaded pistol”. It’s not very often that I judge a book by its cover, in this case however, I have made and exception and have judged a book by its title after reading a forgettable article by the same author.
Leith, S. (2012, September 08). Other Men’s Flowers. Retrieved March 18, 2017, from https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/08/other-mens-flowers/?_r=2