Sometimes I just want people to shut up.
Last night, I was at a party with a group of intellectuals and they would not stop talking. It wasn’t conversation. Rather, it was like being held captive in an interminable TED Talk. No one was actually listening. Rather, each person sat at the edge of their seat, coiled with tension, waiting for their opportunity to suck the oxygen out of the room.
Each person took turns clobbering the audience with polysyllabic jargon, which left me feeling punch drunk and mighty stupid.
I love being in the company of people smarter than me. It’s like playing tennis with a superior player — it strengthens your skills. What I don’t love is when someone feels the need to prove their intellect by making others feel dim. That’s not being smart; it’s just being rude. At last night’s party, a smug academic loudly corrected one of my friends when she incorrectly used the term “nonplused.”
Later, I imagined defending my friend’s honor by tossing a drink in the pretentious jackass’ face, after which I would ask: “Feeling nonplused? That’s the correct use of that term, right?” But, of course, I didn’t think of doing that until I was driving home because I’m not clever enough to come up with witty retorts in the moment.
Recently, I discovered that the words moron, imbecile, and idiot mean different things. In fact, they used to be medical terms! After the IQ test was invented in the early 1900s, people with low IQs were classified by those terms depending on where they fell on the scale — with idiots having the lowest IQs followed by imbeciles and morons.
Of course, the true idiots were those who invented that outlandish rating system. They would have been wiser to create designations for those who feel compelled to prove that they’re super smart, something along the lines of: pompous, condescending, and insufferable.
There is a time and place to act smarter than everyone else: for example, when you’re defending your PhD or debating a global warming-denier. But not at a cocktail party, which by definition is a “mixer.” That means you are supposed to mix with other people and not cordon yourself off behind a wall of words.
Here’s an interesting fact: the cocktail party is considered an invention! Its progenitor was Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. of St. Louis, Missouri. In 1917, she invited 50 guests to her home at high noon for a one-hour affair, and within weeks, cocktail parties became a St. Louis institution and then spread throughout the world.
Now that’s the perfect type of anecdote to bring forward at a cocktail party. It accomplishes the following: a.) it sparks, rather than blocks, conversation; b.) makes you appear knowledgeable; and c.) doesn’t make anyone feel stupid. Even though you got this tidbit from the wildly inaccurate Wikipedia, in terms of cocktail chatter, it’s much more important to be interesting than factual.
I realize that this is a rant, which, perhaps, is just as unbearable as being a boorish party guest. And I also realize that anti-intellectualism is a serious threat to civilization, and being smart is awesome! But what some smart people don’t realize is that a conversation is a dialogue and not a monologue. Ignoring social cues and force-feeding partygoers a treatise on Middle English will guarantee you’re not invited to the next soiree.
And, yes, I know that I used the word “treatise” incorrectly in that sentence. But if I said it at a party with a drink in hand, so what? You’re allowed to be imprecise and sloppy at parties — that’s what the cocktails are for!