Monday, July 8, 2013

Dicuss* (for Discuss*)

In the erstwhile SNL sketch "Coffee Talk with Linda Richman," comedian Mike Myers was satirizing his own real-life mother-in-law. According to Wikipedia: "Whenever Richman would get upset, she would put her hand on her chest and say 'I'm all verklempt.' Then she would say, 'Talk amongst yourselves,' sometimes waving her hand in a dismissive gesture toward the audience." She would helpfully add, "I'll give you a topic," which would follow the format: "[Two- or three-part phrase] is neither [first part], nor [second part], nor [third part]). Discuss." Barbra Streisand, whom Myers had often called the greatest actress of all time ("like buttah"), re-spoofed this spoof at a 1993 New Year's Eve concert by stating: "The Prince of Tides is neither about a prince nor tides—discuss." Another famous quotation on discussion (although definitive authorship is lacking) goes like this: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." The saying is generally attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, but frankly, it's hard to imagine such a passionate, outspoken, compassionate, and outgoing person entirely eschewing the topic of others. Besides, in another epigrammatic piece of advice, she says, "Think as much as possible about other people." Perhaps ER's unfaithful spouse, as well as her own same-sex leanings, had led the First Lady to develop an outsize loathing (or well-founded apprehension) of "gossip." Browsing the web for a bit more discussion of this, I found a lot to both agree and disagree with. But I also found myself nodding at certain lines like these: "I've always thought of it as pretentious navel-gazing, personally. It's the sort of thing that only the kind of people who fancy themselves in the first category would say ... Most of the people I've met who claim to have something along the lines of a 'great mind' are slightly above average at best. The ones I know who truly do have incredibly powerful minds, though, don't bother with insulting other people's intellect with sideways comments like this ... I know plenty of people who will discuss all of their big ideas with you and will also likely never leave their mom's basement ... I'm surrounded by people I find endlessly fascinating and brilliant and the only thing they all have in common is that they'd all scoff at this statement..." And last but not least: "I like another Roosevelt quote on the subject: 'If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody come sit next to me'― Alice Roosevelt Longworth." To my mind, it's obvious that people, ideas, and events are inextricably linked and far from mutually exclusive, but I suppose if I really had to choose, I too might pick people. A 2012 essay in the Paris Review makes a very good case for gossip, the word for which supposedly derives from either "god-sibling" or "go sip," which are both rather lovely, people-centric theories. I'm not exactly sure what or whom I'm discussing when I say there were 73 cases of today's typo in OhioLINK, and "too many records found for your search" in WorldCat. But instead of cussing the causes of our deteriorating databases, come sit next to me and we'll all get "catty" with it!

(Portrait of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt's eldest daughter, uploaded 19 February 2006, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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