One of the great comedy bits ever concocted is Victor Borge’s famed “inflationary language” sketch. Borge, the brilliant Danish pianist and comedian, devised a way of inflating the value of each word that has a number in it by taking the number and adding one. Thus, the constitution becomes the constitthreesion, lieutenant becomes lieuelevenant, tulips become threelips and on and on. Utterly hysterical.
While Borge’s idea is a comedic masterpiece, I wonder if he didn’t happen to luck into a fantastic way of creating a more precise version of the English language. We live in a world where hyperbole is commonplace. Both a grilled cheese sandwich and a beautiful, once in a lifetime sunset can both be referred to as “wonderful”. The listener is left to determine from context clues and body language which wonderful is more wonderful. But, these bits of evidence can be misleading and in a text-based situation like the internet, one can easily miss the difference between the commonplace “wonderful” and the nearly spiritual “wonderful”.
Borge has unwittingly given us a solution. Numbers combined with language can help us find a more precise answer to the deeper meaning of many words. So, the excellent grilled cheese that you consumed for lunch can be “threetaful” or two points better than wonderful. The sunset which brought tears to your eyes is much more likely “tentaful”, a full nine points better than the original. In this way, once can clearly discern the differences between a great sandwich and a magnificent experience of nature’s wonder (or tender in this case).
Think of all the miscommunications this could clear up. If someone produces a really quality work of art it could be called a great “creatention”, a true masterpiece would be much more along the lines of a “creafifteention” and the best piece of art you’ve ever come across might well be a “creathirtytion” or even a “creainfinitytion”. Think of how much additional joy your neighbors will feel during the holidays when you complement them on their “sixtaful decortwelvetions”
It could work in either direction, too. Let’s say you meet someone you have a serious romantic interest in and make an offer to become better acquainted. There is no ambiguity in that person telling you, “No, I don’t want to go over your house and negativeonenicate.” In that case, it’s clear she’s not being coy and any sort of future inquiries should be made elsewhere.
In literature, there are serious possibilities as well. A writer could be given the gift of being able to explain complex circumstances in one word. A character with a ridiculously pronounced area between his eyebrows and his hairline could simply be described as a person with an “eighthead”. A character maimed by a poorly performed birth ritual could be quickly noted as someone with a problem with his “twoskin”. A character who is overly honest could be referred to as being “seventhright”. No fuss, no muss. Think of the efficiency.
Five us four fully understand each other it is a greytwelve skill six learn. When we creaeighteen a more precise language much of the twentytion that arises from miscommunications will be mitigtened. Face it, our current language is assafive.
Here’s Borge’s original bit…..
#1 by Rincewind on October 16, 2011 - 10:32 AM
love Victor Borge too bits…
#2 by Keith Spillett on October 16, 2011 - 4:09 PM
He’s a dang genius!
#3 by Jim Wheeler on October 16, 2011 - 10:34 AM
Wonderful, Keith. I hadn’t thought of Borge in years. Nobody ever cracked me up as much as he did, except maybe Abbot and Costello in their “Who’s on First” routine. However, I believe I have stumbled on a serious sports limitation to your etymological innovation. It just wouldn’t be the same to call it “Who’s on tenth”, and “Who’s on second” would spoil the whole thing. Or would it? Now let’s see, . . .
Never mind. My brain cells just crashed. 😆 😆 😆
#4 by Keith Spillett on October 16, 2011 - 4:12 PM
HA! You have just thrown a proverbial wheel in the ointment. I’ll have to stick to the mangled, Brooklyn-ese version of the Queen English that has gotten me this far. I still say “Tree O’Clock” from time to time, which opens up a whole other horrific linguistic direction
#5 by McKnight John on October 16, 2011 - 11:55 AM
Interesting idea. Language should be fluid and adaptive…like the homo sapiens who learned to enhanced grunts and kill things with less sweat equity. There are certainly fourskins who haunt our food chain cubicle.
#6 by Keith Spillett on October 16, 2011 - 4:13 PM
I will continue to allow the earth to exist as long as they keep innovating. If they don’t, the mothership is getting a code 9-9-9 call to destroy the planet. That is all.
#7 by John Erickson on October 16, 2011 - 6:29 PM
You may just be on five something…….
#8 by afrankangle on October 17, 2011 - 7:01 AM
I remember this bit. Interestingly, who would have thunk it that I have had two encounters with Victor Borge in the past 12 hours … (a friend of mine mentioned him last night in a conversation). Yikes … fortunately no donkeys.