To be brief

Who hasn’t, at some point, winced at the esoteric language adopted by many professions?

This ranges from the banal local authority spiel of synergistic, blue-sky-thinking stakeholders to the more niche and necessarily specific vocabulary of the scientific community. The architectural profession is by no means immune to this and such words as horizontality, verticality, curvilinear, materiality and, it pains me to write, coolth, are in common usage. I’ve no issue with making full use of the language and indeed I often indulge in the (over) use of it, as these blogs clearly illustrate. There is, however, a limit, and the self-aggrandising tones adopted by many often shroud a topic in ambiguity rather than clarify it, which – one should never rule out the possibility – may well be the intention.

This approach to language in the profession starts, as do so many things, in the classroom. I took great pleasure as an undergraduate in seeking out all the greats of the 20th century who railed against the established modes of teaching and philosophical justification of every design decision.  “Architectural education flounders in a flood of intellectualism.” I declared triumphantly in one crit/review only to be confronted by the full intellectual force of Professor Richard Weston, who proceeded to provide me with 10 further quotations from the same architect directly contradicting and undermining that statement. Cocky little shit! Sure I deserved it.

Other exchanges were not always as good-natured as this one. So often was one lambasted by the mighty intellectuals of the educated elite, with such confidently delivered oratories of self-indulgent sesquipedalian pleonasm, that one was rendered incapable of retort, or at least of the sufficiently cutting and laconic kind befitting such a conceited approach to supposed architectural discourse.

There is however, hope, and it comes in the form of a tweet. Twitter, like many online social media forums, is predicated on brevity. Indeed, it limits each piece of commentary to a mere 140 characters, an insurmountably precise exercise in condensed prose for most architects, one would imagine. And yet, paradoxically, if the prodigiously knowledgeable Anna Winston is to be believed, architects constitute one of the most prolific Twitter communities. Perhaps an emerging generation of architects is developing a new “brief” language more aligned with the with the culture of texting than that of the esoteric academic paper.

In many ways I lament the loss of a more exuberant use of language and continually question whether a debate constructed from text abbreviations including LOL and WTF can be relied upon to convey any kind of conversational verisimilitude when regarding the big issues facing the profession. Incidentally NFS was my most recent short-hand discovery which, I’ve been reliably informed by an anonymous IT consultant, can be substituted for either Network File System or Need For Sex!

I recently heard a tale about the origins of laconism, which in may ways exemplifies the ultimate form of the concise statement and which I shall certainly bear in mind, should I find myself once more in the clutches of a tyrannical academic, hell bent on belittlement.

The Athenians advancing on Sparta during the Peloponnesian War (in 431 to 404 BC) sent a message declaring that: “If we capture you and take your city we will take no prisoners, we will slaughter your women and children and all your men will be slaves.” A messenger was sent back with a one-word reply: “If”.

By Henry Goss

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