Saturday, December 8, 2007

Filling in the Gaps in Meaning

The brain is the great interpolator. If you give it part of the message, it will fill in the gaps based on memory and guesswork. Anyone who has ever heard a 6-year-old singing Red Hot Chili Peppers songs - i.e. anyone who has ever waited outside a toilet cubicle while my youngest daughter is performing, in both senses - will attest to the potential for humour. "Gladly, The Cross-Eyed Bear" is a famously mis-interpolated lyric, as filtered through the mind of a child hearing the devotional "Gladly the Cross I'd Bear".

The first time I went to live in Germany, I was renting a flat in the historical centre of Nuremberg. The owner was a teacher who was going to live in Africa for a while, to work on an education project there, and she left behind a great little library, mostly in German. I was trying to learn the language at the time, so I spent whatever moments of sobriety I had leafing through some of the more accessible books. Inside the cover of one, I read a quote, which thanks to my confusion between the German words Zweifeln and Zwiebeln, I took to read:

The greatest pity is this: That the stupid are so certain, and the wise are so full of onions.*

This is a philosophy that has informed my actions ever since (notwithstanding the subsequent discovery that the last work should in fact have been doubts.)

(*) The mangled quote above belongs to Bertrand Russell and I value it to the same extent that I do Billy Connelly's:

Never trust anyone who, when left alone in a room with a tea-cosy, doesn't try it on.


emmett said...

Your story about the interpretation of the Chill's songs reminds me about our first borns recent revelation on arriving home from school that at school they were "praying to the men." Couldn't understand it but it eventually dawned on us when she said that all the prayers they said at school finished with 'Amen'


Brendan Lawlor said...


I love it.

I remember my mother telling me that as a child she thought the famous prayer went: "Lead a snot into temptation" (a snot being a snob)...Very Christian.

Cormac said...

Brendan Lawlor said...

Excellent. I had no idea a word existed for that. Letizia and I had a good laught reading that together.

What are you doing commenting a 7 month old blog entry?!?