Smart talkers

When is someone intelligent, judging by the way he talks?

A first thought, maybe, for language teachers, would be: when that someone uses complex language – builds elaborate sentences or uses academic words.

Listening to talk shows however, or to political speeches convinces me of something else. They mostly talk well on TV, unless of course we’re watching the afternoon shows. And when I say “talk well” I mean the fact that they put more than 4 words in a sentence, and the words do reflect some sort of formality or abstraction. But I think such language can simply be copied, and such a style practised. Sure, copying and practising also involve some sort of skills, but I think intelligence is reflected on different aspects of how a person talks.

I think primarily intelligent people answer the questions they were asked. We’ve all experienced the frustration of hearing this and that politician, manager, trainer etc talking a lot but off the point. I guess all of us have tried an intelligence test in our lives, and have seen that intelligence seems to be primarily connected with an ability to see the “red line” through a sequence. Well, seeing the red line through a question or an argument does enable an intelligent person to offer the next pertinent answer, comment or argument.

Of course not answering a question may also be a matter of deliberate avoidance, which may speak volumes about a person’s intelligence. Provided of course it becomes somehow clear that the person does it deliberately – for example if they are trying to make it sound as if they were answering the question but are in fact redirecting the conversation to a different point, which promises to be more comfortable.

What can you tell us about the poor results of your company in the past year? – I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “poor” – to me the past year brought our company considerable experience in dealing with crisis situations and I’d like to take this opportunity to appreciate the efforts of our staff.

But such manoevres are sometimes hard to detect and so difficult to interpret as intelligence or simply fuzziness.

Another element that I usually take for intelligence is a structure in what the person is saying: starting somewhere and getting somewhere else. In unfortunate cases, people may talk in circles

I am against nuclear energy and it should be banned because it is dangerous and I think we should forbid it

repeat ideas and statements,

Living in extreme climates is very difficult, either very cold or very hot, it is very difficult

giving a false explanation or reason,

I like watching such shows because they are enjoyable

or may simply mention all sorts of things with no detectable direction in their discourse.

But there is a third thing that I appreciate in someone’s talking and that I interpret as intelligence. And this is the images that they create with their words, the personal vision that they manage to get across. My father told me once when I was a kid that it’s not what a book is all about that matters, but how it’s written. He said,

“Take the Iliad. What’s so special there? A young man kidnaps a beautiful woman and the angry husband comes to get her with an army, they fight for 10 years and in the end most of them are dead. That’s such a trivial story in fact. It’s just how it was written that makes its value. The woman is not just a beautiful, cheating woman, but one that even goddesses are jealous of, the angry husband doesn’t just come to grab her back, but makes alliances, politics, claims for honour, and the 10 years of war are not just blind warship, but people’s tragedies, loss, friendship, sacrifice. That’s what the Iliad is all about.”

I still remember all this, over 30 years later – why?, I wonder. I guess it’s my father’s vision of that book that he put so well into words, and visions hardly ever die.