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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Intellectual Curmudgeonry

As I am well on my way to being a curmudgeon (at 24), I thought I should practice a little bit. I promised a blogging friend that I would write about a distinction made in Fowler's Modern English Usage, a book I haven't picked up in some time but is a delight to read (I have both the original, edited by Gowers in the 60s, as well as the recent revision by Burchfield. Both have their merits, and Burchfield's has some necessary contemporary issues, but Fowler's wit and cantankerousness is missing from it).

The distinction is between intelligent and intellectual. I'm quite sure that I am not alone when I say that I am sick and tired of hearing bimboes (sp?) described on TV as "intelligent." It is a cliche of sit-coms and other shows that a male, evincing his admiration if not approbation of a female he fancies, describes her as "beautiful, funny and smart/intelligent," in other words, the complete package. Years before these shows, Fowler makes the distinction between intelligent and intellectual thus:

While an intelligent person is merely one who is not stupid or slow-witted, an intellectual person is one in whom the part played by the mind as distinguished from the emotions and perceptions is greater than in the average man...Intelligent is always commendatory though sometimes patronizing epithet.

Thus, the use of "intelligent" in describing the character of, say, a woman on Friends is not entirely mistaken.

1 Comments:

Anonymous RK said...

We might be able to nuance this a little further. The collective noun for 'intellectuals' is the intelligentsia, a word that first came into use in 19C Russia. Both collectively and individually, intellectuals are widely disliked, whereas the intelligent are merely mistrusted. I've known many pretentious and, er, dumb intellectuals (often in France: the English used to consider the word, and the phenomenon it describes, foreign. When they eventually adopted both, they were the worst). And then there is what the French call the idiot savant or 'learned idiot'. Not an intellectual, but a scholar. (It's also worth remembering that in British English 'smart' means well-dressed in a middle-class sort of way, while in 16C English it meant 'pain'.) But I ramble. We old farts do.

11:16 PM  

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