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At An Art Opening

The art world loves jargon, and the more art buzz words you can cram in, the more impressed people will be. The next time you meet a work of art that has you stumped, and you’re being pressed for a response, just play with the following:

Quote some Latin! Who says dead languages aren’t useful? When confronted, try sprinkling a bit of the old language into your response, like: “What you say is all very well, but always remember that ars longa, vita brevis” (“Art is long-lasting but life is short”). Another good one is ars est celare artem (“the purpose of art is to conceal art’s artfulness”). And if all else fails, say, “de gustibus non est diputandum” (“there’s no accounting for taste”).

Use entropy! Entropy is a scientific term that’s been hijacked by the art world. And while it means that the amount of disorder in the universe is bound to increase (this is the second law of thermodynamics: heat is disordered energy), it’s pretty useful at openings. If the thing you’re looking at appears to be irredeemably chaotic and incomprehensible, try saying, “The artist appears to be a supreme master of entropy.” You will sound deeply knowledgeable while seeming to praise the work (when, in fact, you’re cleverly condemning it!).

Isn’t it ironic? Simply claim that “Fundamentally, this work is an extremely skillful use of irony.” By definition, irony means to convey a meaning by expressing the opposite. If you have no idea what the artist is trying to say and suspect that the artist doesn’t have an idea either, this is a crafty way of implying that you’re penetrated to the heart of the work’s nonexistent meaning. If you’re asked what or where the irony is, look inscrutable, nod wisely, and walk away.

The final nod: If you find a work of art meaningless or someone’s point of view incomprehensible, unacceptable, or futile, you can always shake your head and declare the whole issue to be “problematic.” Just whatever you do, don’t admit defeat or tell the truth.

On Rational Expectations

Mentioning “rational expectations” is an excellent way to demonstrate that you have some familiarity with economic theory. The idea of rational expectations, put forward by some economists, is that people are pretty smart when it comes to predicting economic phenomena (such as inflation or stock prices or their own incomes). That doesn’t mean the predictions will be accurate, but it means they won’t be off target in any regular or predictable way.

If your conversation partner asks, “So what?” point out that the rational-expectations theory sets limits on what government is able to do. For instance, in a recession, the government might cut taxes to get people to spend more. But if taxpayers have rational expectations, they’ll realize the tax cut is temporary, and they’ll keep their spending low in anticipation of the budget deficits and higher taxes coming next year.

At this point your conversation partner may express skepticism, questioning whether people in a shopping mall are really performing complex calculations about government policy. Don’t worry, we’ve got an effective counter! Just note that some economists share these doubts, and then mention the alternative view of adaptive expectations, which says people form expectations based on the past. So, if inflation was high last year, shoppers will expect it to he high next year, even if the Fed is now gung-ho about stopping inflation.

Nanotechnology’s Gonna Change Everything!

It’s confirmed – nanotechnology is one of the hottest buzzwords since . . . well, the buzzword buzzword. And the good part is that faking your way through a discussion of it is easy once you understand only a few things. First off, nanotechnology implies building things with atoms and molecules. The scale is obviously very, very small, a nanometer being a billionth of a meter. By comparison, a human hair is about 50,000 nanometers wide. But what exactly is the payoff? If you’re arguing for the technology, just keep these things in mind: by applying it to medicine, nanomachines will actually be able to enter the body to destroy viruses, remove arterial plaque, and excise cancer cells. Even more amazingly, nanomachines will have the ability to build other nanomachines in a completely pollution-free production process, and the potential for these tiny machines is enormous. Of course, if you’re lobbying against the technology, the potential for over-replication is a real threat. So, if you want to kill the conversation ASAP, just bring up the Terminator scenario: nanotech weapons have the potential to self-replicate as targeting killing machines to kill any sort of host system available (from computers to crops to livestock to humans). It should help you switch topics quickly.

The Armchair Geographer As World Traveler

There are few better ways to fake you way through cocktail party conversation than by learning geography. As people talk about their vacations to distant and exciting places, simply ask a few informed questions – and drop a few obscure place names – and they will tend to assume that you have been there yourself. If you really want to impress, you might focus on amusing place-names, especially if the conversation is focused on the British Isles. “When you visited Ireland,” one might venture, “did you climb Macgillicuddy’s Reeks or fish in the river Suck? It is especially noted for its pike, you know.” “The Isle of Man is no doubt delightful, but the Calf of Man is really quite special.” “My favorite Scottish islands are the threesome of Rhum, Eigg, and Muck, right off the Sound of Sleat.” Or one an also compare Scotland’s various firths, the best-named undoubtedly being the Firth of Fourth. My own personal choice however, has got to be the northernmost point of the Outer Hebrides: The Butt of Lewis.

About Performance Art

If you really want to impress when talking about performance art, you’ve just got to remember that the entire genre is built on the idea that there are a variety of realities and views in society. So, essentially, any argument you make with conviction should pass. However, should you need a little reassurance, you might want to keep these important ideas in your back pocket. First off, you should think about the degree of minimalism and pluralism exhibited in the work, fancy words for whether the content is simple of complex. You should also identify the taboo that’s being exposed, and focus on the provocative details of the performance. Combining these clues with your own response and emotional opinion should help you make a seemingly profound statement (thankyouverymuch!) about the piece. In fact, just crib the following mad-lib to help you in sticky situations: I felt the piece truly deconstructed the process of (some societal problem), challenged the accepted value of (some concept taken for granted), and related brilliantly to (insert political, artistic, or social issues here).

With Correct Pronunciation!

If you fumble with a philosopher’s name, nothing you say afterward will sound credible. So, learn to pronounce these names correctly, then start worrying about their ideas.

  • (George) Berkeley is properly pronounced like Charles Barkley (bark-lee). This name is commonly mispronounced “burk-lee,” like Berkeley, California, which ironically, is named after George Berkeley.
  • (Friedrich) Nietzsche is commonly mispronounced as _nee-chee.” The correct pronunciation is “nee-ch-ya” and rhymes with “pleased to meetchya.”
  • Lao-tzu (born ca. 604 BCE) is spelled several different ways in English transliteration from the Chinese. But no matter how you spell it, the proper way to pronounce it is “lau” (sounds like “ouch”)- “dshu.” The stress goes on the first syllable.
  • (Charles Sanders) Peirce (1839-1914) is commonly mispronounced as “peer-s.” The correct pronunciation is “purse,” which is somewhat funny because Peirce rarely had a penny in his purse. Oddly, Peirce took his middle name, Sanders, as an anglicized form of Santiago, or “St. James, in honor of a fellow pragmatist, William James (1842-1910), who helped him out financially.
  • (Ludwig) Wittgentstein (1889-1951) is a name that demands authentic German pronunciation, and there are plenty of ways to slaughter it. Here’s one that embodies all of them, “wit-jen-steen.” The correct pronunciation is “vit” (rhymes with bit)-”ghen” (rhuymes with ken)-”shtine.” the first name is pronounced “lude-vig.” If you think it’s hard to pronounce his name, try reading his Tractatus.

With A Star Trek Fan!

Say a Trekker (the polite term) approaches you with amorous intentions: “You’re the most beautiful carbon-based life-form in the Alpha Quadrant. Would you care to join me for a Romulun ale? May I store your number in my tricorder?” Here’s a quick primer for your convenience. If you’re in a pinch, though, you can always say your Prime Directive prevents you from dating dweebs.

  • Aliens, Not-So-Friendly – the Borg, Jem’Hadar, Cardassians, Klingons (sometimes), Q Continuum: In the original series, the warlike Klingons were the bad guys. But sometimes between then and The Next Generation, an uneasy truce came into effect. One of them, Worf, even joined the crew of the Enterprise. The Ferengi (big-eared merchant aliens that bear a strange resemblance to NBA star Reggie Miller) were too comical to be the new bad guys. Enter the ultimate menace, the robotic Borg, stalking the galaxy in giant cubes assimilating entire planets into their Collective: “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” The super-hottie on Star Trek: Voyager? That’s ex-Borg babe Seven-of-Nine.
  • Kirk and Picard: The two big-name captains of the starship Enterprise. James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner) commanded Enterprise NCC-1701 in the original series and the first seven films. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) commanded several Enterprises in the Next Generation and later films.
  • “Live long and prosper”: A Vulcan blessing/salute, accompanied by a hand sign: fingers spread in a V formation, thumb out, both ad-libbed by Leonard Nimoy. He derived it from a common blessing from rabbis to their congregation. The gesture symbolizes the letter shin, the first letter of the word Shadai, a secret Hebrew name for God.
  • Prime Directive: The guiding principle of all Starfleet interactions with alien species. The main clause: “No Starfleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture.”
  • Stardate: The way of marking time that replaced AD as the standard. There’s complicated method for determining stardate (SD), but here’s a good one to know: SD 40759.5 = October 4, 2363 = commissioning date of the starship Enterprise.
  • Starfleet: The military arm of the United Federation of Planets, an alliance including Earth and over 150 other planets.
  • Tachyon pulse: An emission of a special kind of energy that seems to solve all kinds of problems, from temporal anomalies to subspace rifts. If that doesn’t work, usually an inverse tachyon pulse does the trick. It is a common dues ex machine solution in the Trek series.
  • Warp speed: As Mach 1 is the speed of sound, Warp 1 is the speed of light.
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