Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I am not a word person

I was lying in the tent on the second night of our trip around the Tabletop Track, in the “Top End” of Australia, pretending the drone of mosquitoes, doing their best to push through the tent screen, bothered me not at all. As it so happens, I had just wrapped up, to channel my inner Brit, a rather uninspired attempt at some word puzzle. In response to my demonstration of an almost complete lack of knowledge of the English language, the wife asked me “Do you think you're smarter than me?” I, to my credit, fought off the ever-hungry male ego and resisting answering “Of course”. If I hadn't been feeling quite so knackered from our arduous tromping through the scrub that day, I would have responded with a question: “How do you define 'smart'?”

It is a question I have considered before: what does “smart” mean? You might be tempted to think of it like pornography: “you know it when you see it”. But I don't think it is so simple. Chou Lu recited pi to 67,890 decimal places. Some savants can do extraordinary mathematical calculations in their head. Remarkable as those feats are, does that make them as smart as Newton? Richard Feynman? An American teenager Tim Doner speaks more than 20 languages. Is he smarter than Marie Curie? Was Michelangelo smarter than Beethoven? All of those folks have accomplished feats that clearly required intelligence, but how does one compare them?

Compared to most people, I seem to find mathematics relatively easy. I did a Masters in physics, so I also do OK at physics. I am reasonably mechanical – I can figure out how most things work, and on occasion can even fix a broken piece of equipment.

Languages, however, are another matter altogether. On a few occasions over the years, I have taken a reasonable stab at learning French. Sadly, I have very little to show for my efforts. If you've got this far in this very first of blog posts, you're undoubtedly thinking I should have become fully proficient in English before attempting to add to my résumé, and I would have a hard time arguing that point.

Wife loves scrabble; I'd rather play chess. She can do crosswords for days at a time; I would rather put hot pins in my eyes. You see, my dearly beloved's question wasn't exactly apropos of nothing. While nine times out of ten, I can easily best a garden gnome in a battle of wits, she was suggesting that perhaps it might not be a bad idea to practice my language skills a bit, in the hopes of at least slowing their inevitable age-induced decline. Point taken.

But I am not a word person. Word games hold the attraction of a root canal. So my answer to fending off impending illiteracy is ... you got it, start a blog. I have no idea where this is going to go other than it is destined to be yet another self indulgent series of missives of interest only to the author's parents. And maybe not even them.

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