People who know me may wonder why I am so determinedly frivolous in my writing style these days. To understand that, you have to understand what writing a thesis does to someone who loves words.
The way to write a good thesis (although my advisors might well ask how I know this) is to take a really good, interesting piece of writing and pass it through a mangle, thereby squeezing out every single thing that could be described as making it easy or pleasant to read. Through repeated applications of the mangle, you obtain a kind of roughage that you might think twice before feeding to your worms. Or at least I would, because I am quite fond of the worms in my worm bin (there is such a pro-vertebrate bias in society, you would not believe. It’s all Hello-Kitty-this and Pat-the-Puppy-that but does anyone come round and ask to visit with the worms, I ask you? No, they don’t. But I digress).
The finished thesis product has much in common with institutional toilet paper; it performs an essential function and performs it well but, in terms of texture, it leaves the consumer feeling a wee bit unloved.
Today, I happily wasted my afternoon writing a little program to count all the words in my thesis (not including dumb words like this, the and it) and I think it is clear that in the process of my academic career, I used up my entire lifetime supply of serious words like evidence, grammar, identical, control and consonant. The backlog of unused non-serious words then got shunted through eddies in the space-time continuum directly to Stephen Fry so that he would be able to say this:
“Until that time I think it was safe to say that I had never really been aware of my own timeless brand of loveliness. But his words smote me, because of course you see, I am lovely in a fluffy moist kind of way and who would have it otherwise? I walk, and let’s be splendid about this, in a highly accented cloud of gorgeousness that isn’t far short of being, quite simply terrific. The secret of smooth almost shiny loveliness, of the order of which we are discussing, in this simple, frank, creamy sort of way, doesn’t reside in oils, unguents, balms, ointments, creams, astringents, milks, moisturizers, liniments, lubricants, embrocations or balsams, to be rather divine for just one noble moment, it resides, and I mean this in a pink slightly special way, in ones attitude of mind.”
My evidence for the transferral to Stephen Fry of all the words I didn’t use is that (again, ignoring the grammaticky boring words), not a single word used by Fry in that monologue occurs even once in my thesis. I rest my case.
So, as I said, I am all out of serious words regimented in well-constructed sentences and today, if I had to write my thesis, this would be the abstract:
Words are made up of funny sounds, especially French which has many squishy words and (objectively) perfectly lunatic spelling. Some languages that are spoken in other places (quite possibly Ethiopia) where the food is also quite good, seem to have some other rules that are quite unlike French but ever-so-slightly like English. We all agreed that these rules would be less incommodious if we could make a computer do at least part of the work, so we force fed a dictionary to the computer and it got to work on some nifty computing. Once it was done totting up various sorts of numbers (big ones divided by little ones, mostly), it tried to guess whether an invented word would fit alongside real words in the dictionary. Sometimes the computer did a jolly good job of guessing whether an invented word would fit and sometimes it didn’t. That’s okay though, because if we could make the computer do a consistently decent job of understanding language, we would all be out of work and that would be too, too ghastly. Phew.
Today’s illustration is shamelessly filched from the interwebs. Stephen Fry is my hero and any time he wants to stop by for a spot of tiffin, he can be sure of a warm, if slightly awed, welcome.