Thick as a catachresticism

16:00, Nov 06 2012

"And that," said Professor Beckham, "concludes the lecture. Should you have missed anything, you'll find a summary of the main points, albeit somewhat simplified, in the Journal of Advanced Neurosurgery."

The applause from the packed theatre was immediate and prolonged. When it finally subsided the professor asked if there were any questions.

Everyone in the hall leaned forward. They enjoyed the professor's lectures but they just loved question time. Watching Professor Beckham sparring with the country's brightest minds made them feel as Athenians must have felt when Plato and Socrates slugged it out in the shade of the ancient Perineum.

"Professor Beckham," said a voice from the back, "what is your response to the observation by the Prime Minister of New Zealand that . . ." but the rest of the question was inaudible because of the booing that arose throughout the hall.

"Ladies and gentlemen," exclaimed Professor Beckham above the cacophony, "ladies and gentlemen," and he waited until silence returned to the lecture theatre."'Have I been speaking to myself these last four hours? Are we to behave as if the frontal lobes and the neo-cortex had never evolved? Are we, in short, to be slaves to emotion? Come come, ladies and gentlemen. We are children of the enlightenment. If we do not champion the power of reason, who will? The rational mind fears nothing, so please, young man, complete your question."

"Thank you, professor," said the bearded youth. "I merely wondered what you thought of the Prime Minister's observation that you were, and I quote, ‘thick as bat shit'."


All eyes were on the professor. He removed his glasses and wiped them for dramatic effect.

"Of bats I know little," he said. "My game was football."

Oh, how the students laughed.

"But I am serious," said the prof. "I am no chiropterologist. And I am even less of a coprochiropterologist," and here he paused to let the clever ones snigger. "Modesty prevents me commenting on my own intelligence and I am not qualified to make any observation about the thickness or otherwise of bat shit. I believe there are caves in South America where the accumulated guano reaches a considerable depth, but whether depth equates to thickness I shall have to leave to experts in the field.

"Nevertheless, it seems to me that the issue may not be so much chiroptological as linguistic. I suspect the Prime Minister is guilty of catachresis. Can anyone here tell me what catachresis is?"

A hand shot up in the front row.

"Anyone, that is, apart from my wife. No? Very well, enlighten us, darling Posh, if you would."

"Getting words wrong," said Mrs Beckham. "The Prime Minister confused the common simile ‘thick as pig shit' with the equally common metaphor ‘he went bat shit', which implies that the party became enraged."

"Thank you, sweetness," said Prof Beckham, blowing his wife a kiss. "And there I think we might let the matter rest. But I will just add that there are remarkable similarities between myself and Prime Minister Key.

"We are both wealthy men. He made his money through foreign exchange, I through football. Neither activity is of any practical use to mankind though I think it would be fair to say that football gives more widespread pleasure.

"My wealth has enabled me to indulge my hobby of academic study. Mr Key's has enabled him to dabble in politics, where he has met with great success. But that success is founded not on policy, nor yet on his intelligence. It is founded on popularity. Mr Key has presented himself as a character with whom voters feel at ease. He comes across as a good joker. He is, if you wish, a personality. His appeal is emotional. And precisely the same was true of me. I was a good footballer. But there were many better. What singled me out was that people warmed to me. Girls found me pretty. Men felt they knew me. They aspired to be me.

"A similar business is playing itself out in the United States right now. The presidential election is not a contest of ideas.

"Neither candidate has presented any worth the name. It is a popularity contest. If I might use a neurological image, the most important appeal is to the reptilian amygdala, rather than to the frontal lobes.

"Always has been always will be, world without end, amen. And that's it for today from Bat Shit Central."

The Dominion Post