Monday, October 17, 2005


How is it possible for one man to say so much? You're standing at the other end of the table, talking with mouth and hands, shouting with both to make your point. You're leaning in, fists clenched, mouth open wide, talk, talk, talking, and I steady my pint, watching with great sadness as beer escapes glasses all across the table. It's not pretty, this oration, but it's effective. You have the ability to draw others in with your excitement. Make them as excited about your subject as you are, as you pretend to be. You'll be a politician someday. You can't help it - it's what you were born to do.

At the end of the night, a tab materialises and is settled up, coats are put on, the last gulps of beer are not wasted, and slide easily down throats. Memory is a little hazy here, but I can only imagine that there was an unsteady meandering to the exit, and as clumsily as we cross the threshold from one year to the next, we would have poured across the door of that pub and spilled drunkenly out into the streets.

"Wait, did you say spilled?"

It's cold outside, and I'm fairly certain I'm not in any state of mind to listen to what you have to say. So, I decide to say as little as possible in hopes that you sense my mood and change your course. "I did, indeed," I mutter.

I should have known. After fifteen years, I should have known. "My apologies in advance if I'm wrong," you say with false lightness, "but I believe the word you're looking for is spilt."

I sigh. I'm sure I sigh, and a reluctant response is drawn from me. "No," I tell you, "it is most assuredly spilled - I only use proper words. The words I want to use."

There is silence for a moment, but not just any silence - a smirking silence. The worst kind. "So you can just make up words now?" You pause to smirk some more, and wait for a reaction. Not immediately satisfied, you push a little harder. "So, you could have used spilted and it would have done just as well?"

We walk in silence for half a minute or so. You're patting yourself on the back for pushing the right buttons. I'm deciding what to say. "I'll address this matter in three parts," I announce at last. "a) Spilled is every bit a word as spilt - the use of one over the other is simply a matter of personal choice. b) If I had used spilted in place of spilt or spilled and you understood me perfectly, what would have been the problem? Is not the sole purpose of language simply to make oneself understood? And c) You, my friend, are a world-class idiot."

You chuckle just like I knew you would. Even before my answer, you knew what your response to my answer would be. The construction of sound conversation requires careful planning. "Well," you say," I think one does the language a great disservice by just making up terrible words. What if someone else was listening? What if they bore witness such a terrible choice of words? What conclusions could be drawn about the language?" You throw in a pause for effect, before carrying on. "It's important to use proper words whenever possible to make the language, and thus, you, as attractive as possible."

Apparently the consumption of pints has put you off your game. You've made it things too easy. "If the eavesdropper in question is a speaker of this language - which she would have to be in order to understand what was being said - then she would understand perfectly well its nature," I say. "Please, allow me to use a French word here to describe the English language: jolie-laide. Beautiful-ugly. It is the ugliness of English which makes it beautiful - so I have no qualms about making it uglier."

At this point, there was a breakdown in borderline civilised conversation, and we resorted to childish bickering. We were talking at the same time, voices raised, right to the sky, where they mingled with car exhaust, factory smoke, and other pollutants. Someone could hear us. Someone could always hear us. Somewhere, someone was lying in bed with their window open just a crack, barely enough to let the heat out and our voices in. They floated clumsily on air then, our voices, never having learnt how to fly, and made their way to that window where they smacked up against the glass, slid sorrily down, and spilted through the crack to waiting ears inside.

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