The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014
Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology
The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious
: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain
April 14, 2014
Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time
: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic
: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships
: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin
: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate
: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure
April 11, 2014
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden
: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does
: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer
: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You
April 9, 2014
Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?
Samuel G. Freedman
: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau
: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau
: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
April 8, 2014
Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease
Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear
April 4, 2014
A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children
Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet
Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds
Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves
April 2, 2014
Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?
Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities
It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene
Jewish World Review
January 27, 2009
/ 2 Shevat 5769
Are you sophisticated? Here's how to find out
The word 'sophisticated', though commonly used, especially by persons who turn out on close investigation to be unsophisticated, is tricky, and truly sophisticated people avoid it altogether. Now, having got that off my chest, let us try to define it.
One difficulty is that the root of the word can mean opposite things. Thus, a sophist can be either 'a wise or learned man' (Oxford English Dictionary), or 'one who makes use of fallacious arguments'. 'Sophistry' nearly always means 'deceptiveness'. To sophisticate, used as a verb, is to mix commodities and render impure, to adulterate, deprive of simplicity, and make artificial. Hazlitt, himself a fascinating mixture of intellectual sophisticate, rare for his epoch, and downright naivety to the point of idiocy (falling hopelessly in love with a nasty servant-girl), sometimes used the word, verbally or adjectivally, as a term of abuse. The hint of criticism lasted throughout the 19th century thus in the 1880s it was noted that plain names for girls, like Sarah or Mary, were being 'sophisticated' into Celestine or Mariette.
The use of 'sophisticated' in its modern sense occurred only in the third decade of the 20th century, though the OED cites Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure as an early authority. When used with approval, envy and admiration, it is essentially a 1920s word, cropping up in the early Aldous Huxley of Crome Yellow and Antic Hay, and applied to young women as well as men. Huxley's Mrs Viveash was sophisticated and so was Nancy Cunard, on whom she was based. It quickly moved into the cultural field, puzzling pundits and know-alls unable to decide whether Sons and Lovers, let alone Lady Chatterley's Lover, were sophisticated or not or even faux-naif, thus forcing them into dishonest compromises or having it both ways.
In the Thirties and Forties it made deep inroads into academia. We read that in ancient Athens, 'probably pederasty was more common among the aristocrats, the idle rich and the sophisticated than among the simpler people'. Scrutiny took it up in its usual gruesome fashion, both as a term of guarded praise and of stealthy abuse. So we find the dreadful Raymond Williams droning on, in Marxism and Literature: 'Mediation, in this range of use, thus seems little more than a sophisticate of reflection.' Puzzle that out. In 1947 C.S. Lewis told me it was 'one of those words to be employed with the greatest care'. He loved to discourse on its etymology and contradictions, and made cunning use of it himself (cf. his That Hideous Strength).
All the same, I intend to have a shot at defining sophistication in this day and age, and even devising a test by which you can fairly (or even unfairly) determine whether someone is sophisticated or not. The word provokes not just argument but rage. People really dislike being called unsophisticated, or accused of a lack of sophistication, unless they are very sophisticated indeed, in which case they don't care tuppence, since they consider the person who calls them such lacks the qualifications to pronounce. To which my philosopher friend Professor Prodnose adds: 'Yes, and the only true Sophisticated One is G-d.'
Let us then proceed to give the ten tests by which you can decide whether you, or those you know to be in the running, are sophisticated or not. You don't have to pass all ten. Seven will do perfectly well. And test number one takes up the last point. Can you remain truly indifferent to what people say or think about you? I mean, not just take no notice but remain perfectly calm. Can you take no notice of what is said about you in a gossip column, or better still, refrain from reading it when kind friends tell you you're in it? Personally I think this point can be carried too far.
Now come two tests of knowledge. A sophisticated person knows all, or a very great deal, but rarely chooses to display knowledge. A know-all is horribly unsophisticated. Ideally knowledge should be kept in reserve, and displayed only in response to earnest questioning. But it must be true. Don't pretend you know about art unless, say, you can name all the 35 authentic Vermeers, and discuss sensibly the question of a 36th. All right, a dozen will do. Can you?
Thirdly, and again on culture, it is vital to be able to command behind-the-scenes knowledge of the kind John Amis displays so easily and naturally in his invaluable little book My Music in London: 1945-2000 or Cyril Connolly in Enemies of Promise and The Unquiet Grave. Did Benjamin Britten first lose interest in choirboys when their voice broke or when pubic hair sprouted? If John Sparrow had given evidence at the Chatterley trial would the history of modern literature have been different? Is a Picasso more likely to be genuine with a signature or without? Vitally important, however, not to appear knowing. The surest sign of a failure in sophistication is name-dropping. Are you capable of hinting rather than asserting?
Fourthly, and relating to this last, comes the question of anecdotage. A sophisticated person ought to be able to make you laugh. But an anecdotalist can so easily tip over into the pit of boredom. And to be identified as a bore is even worse than to be hailed as a name-dropper. Learn to listen to yourself and when to stop. Old 'Monty' Mackenzie was enchanting company for the first half-hour. After that, the conversational law of diminishing returns set in fast. A true mark of sophistication is the ability to mix with perfect timing a blend of talking and listening. No one can be called worldly who is not a genuine listener. Are you?
Fifth, a point of behavior. Cardinal Newman defined a gentleman as one who never willingly inflicted pain. There is some doubt whether the adverb he used was 'needlessly' or 'consciously'. And of course a gentleman is not necessarily sophisticated, though an unsophisticated gent is a problem in social algebra. I would say a sophisticated man never inflicts pain except in an attempt to extract information in a good social cause. A sophisticated lady can always get what she needs to know without inflicting anything. Do you pass this test?
Six, the essence of sophistication is unflappability. A sophisticated person never swears, that is uses four-letter words. I could never get this into Ken Tynan's head. It's all right for a man to say 'G-d damn you!' in a very English accent. Or a Yank to exclaim 'Darn it!' in upstate Connecticut. A lady may use a four-letter whisper once in a blue moon. Princess Margaret said: 'Well, I do. The Queen never does. But then she's less sophisticated than I am.'
Seven is one of Diana Cooper's obiter dicta. It's very unsophisticated for a lady to say she must go to the lavatory (never 'john' or 'loo', note). She ought to train the bladder properly. I maintain this applies to a man, too, and is another argument against drinking. Indeed, the more I think of it, it is impossible, in a practical sense, for a man, still less a woman, to be sophisticated unless they drink the absolute minimum. Again, on a practical point, the eighth test is: 'Granted only one moderate-sized suitcase, what do you pack for a weekend at Highgrove or Sandringham? The ninth test is related. After such an event, which servants do you tip, and what, and how exactly do you do it?
Finally, and this is the ultimate test of sophistication if invited to call on the Prime Minister or the President, how do you successfully avoid any mention of politics? And how do you decide when it is time to leave? A few seconds before it is made plain to you, clearly. But how do you judge it? Let me know if you can think of better tests.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
|BUY THE BOOK|
Click HERE to purchase it at a discount. (Sales help fund JWR.).
Eminent British historian and author Paul Johnson's latest book is "American Presidents Eminent Lives Boxed Set: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant". Comment by clicking here.
01/06/09: What did they talk about in the Ice Age? The weather, of course
09/09/08: Time, and our appalling ignorance of it
08/19/08: Eye-stopping glimpses of an exotic and forbidden world
06/30/08: How to fill a lecture hall, and how to empty it
06/23/08: Americans should count their blessings
05/20/08: Pajamas for Presidents
05/13/08: Literary woodlice boring needless holes in biographical bedposts
04/01/08: When markets come crashing down, send for the man with the big red nose
04/01/08: Quality for dinner. Pass the Fairy Liquid, Old Boy
03/25/08: In search of an American President with brains and guts
03/18/08: Technological warfare against mice won't work. Try cats
03/11/08: What is a genius? We use the word frequently but surely, to guard its meaning, we should bestow it seldom
03/03/08: Fiction as a crutch to get one through life
02/26/08: Impatience + Greed = Trouble
02/13/08: Shakespeare, Neo-Platonism and Princess Diana
02/07/08: Where Industry Has Failed Us
12/19/07: People who put their trust in human power delude themselves
12/12/07: What is aggression?
12/04/07: Pursuing success is not enough
11/07/07: Are famous writers accident-prone?
10/31/07: Courage needed to disarm Iran
09/20/07: Who Will Say I Promise to Lay Off?
07/24/07: Greed is safer than power-seeking
04/02/07: Benefactors must be hardheaded
03/07/07: American idealism and realpolitik
11/28/06: Space: Our ticket to survival
10/24/06: Envy is bad economics
10/11/06: Better to Borrow or Lend? Rethinking conventional wisdom
08/22/06: Don't practice legal terrorism
08/08/06: A summer rhapsody for a pedal-bike
08/03/06: Why is there no workable philosophy of music?
07/11/06: Historically speaking, energy crisis is America's opportunity
07/06/06: The misleading dimensions of persons and lives
06/06/06: First editions are not gold
05/23/06: A downright ugly man need never despair of attracting women, even pretty
04/25/06: Was Washington right about political parties?
04/12/06: Let's Have More Babies!
04/05/06: For the love of trains
03/29/06: Lincoln and the Compensation Culture
03/22/06: Bottle-beauties and the globalised blond beast
03/15/06: Europe's utopian hangover
03/08/06: Kindly write on only one side of the paper
02/28/06: Creators versus critics
02/21/06: The Rhino Principle
© 2009, Paul Johnson