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12 November 2005


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So are you warning of another 'Chalabi'-like player in Washington?

Is this one for Syria?

W. Patrick Lang


He is a Lebanese. They are still looking for a Syrian Chalabi to give your money to. pl

Michael Murry

"Plausibly Glib Accomplished Parrots"

Thanks, Pat. What a truly great phrase: "plausibly glib." It reminds me of what C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards once wrote in their classic foundational study in semantics: "The Meaning of Meaning," first published in 1923. The two renowned British scholars wrote:

"There will be some to whom a word is merely a stimulus to the utterance of other words without the occurrence of any reference -- the psittacists, that is to say, who respond to words, much as they might respond to the first notes of a tune which they proceed almost automatically to complete."

I tried looking up the word "psittacist" in my dictionary (a.k.a., The Container of All Knowledge) but could only come up with "psittacine (adj.), which means: 'of, or pertaining to, parrots.'"

Then, remembering something else that Richards had once written in his classic "Practical Criticism: a study in literary judgment" (1925), I did a quick lookup in the library and found:

" ... what Mr. [Bertrand] Russell once called ... 'a purely prudential use of language,' ... using words not because he knows what he means by them, but because he knows how they are ordinarily used, and does with them what he has herard other people do with them before. He strings them together in suitable sequences, maneuvers them aptly enough, produces with them pretty well the effects he intends, yet meanwhile he may have not much more inkling of what he is really (or should be) doing with them than a telephone girl need have of the inner wiring of the switchboard she operates so deftly. He may merely be in the condition that Conrad ascribed to those Russians who pour words out 'with such an aptness of application sometimes that, as in the case of very accomplished parrots, one can't defend oneself from the suspicion that they really understand what they say.'"

Thanks to Pat Lang, I will now add "plausibly glib" to my former favorite expression: "accomplished parrots." I sometimes try and envision a scene in which a guy who thinks his parrot can talk trains the bird to sqawk a noise that sounds for all the world like "Polly want a cracker?" only to suffer amazed rejection from the beast when he offers it a peanut as "reinforcement" and the bird spits it back out disgustedly, swearing: "Damn it all! I said I wanted a CRACKER!"

Does this sort of implausible scenario describe the person under discussion here?


They are still looking for a Syrian Chalabi to give your money to.


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