by Kei Miller
In These Mendacious Times
Court dramas, when they’re good, are always very good. I used to be addicted to L.A. Law while my parents would religiously watch Perry Mason. Nowadays I’ve taken a serious liking to the CBS drama, The Good Wife, and sometimes during the day I watch old episodes of Law and Order.
Over the past few weeks, the Jamaican public has been lucky, for they need not look to the fictional for their dose of nail-biting courtroom drama. The real life Mannat-Dudus Inquiry has been giving everyone enough thrills. The delight of it all is in the banter, the brutal interrogations, the devastating wit of lawyers, the showmanship, the cut and jab. KD Knight (QC no less!) has been especially guilty of pllaying to the crowd. And how they love him! This week when the Prime Minister (who was finally put on the stand) insisted that he wouldn’t answer what he described as a ‘foolish question’, KD retorted that he had pitched it perfectly to the level of his witness. Ouch! That was cutting enough, but the barb that now has everyone in the most wonderful uproar is KD’s politely put insult (again to the prime minister): ‘I am suggesting, sir, that you are a pathologically mendacious person!’
It’s not surprising that the phrase has taken off. For here is what us writers have always known – that most people are able to thoroughly enjoy language even before they fully understand it. I guarantee you this, the majority of Jamaicans had a good belly laugh before wiping away the tears and consulting a dictionary to finally find out what the hell mendacious really meant. Now, one day later, and everyone is using the word! And why not? Jamaicans have always loved those who can ‘talk good’ or who can ‘speechify’. Most would probably love the gift for themselves. If you doubt this, just note the adoration that Rex Nettleford enjoyed in his lifetime, for though the professor was a very, very bright man when he wanted to be, he did have the tendency to waffle on uselessly though always with an impressive vocabulary, understanding that this was enough to appease the masses who would look up to the podium and be utterly numbed by his polysyllabic verbiage, and whisper to each other, ‘lawd, him bright eeeh!’ Or else, you could go further back, to the Tea Parties slaves used to hold, when they would engage in the most hilarious malapropisms – simultaneously a mockery and a homage to the language of their masters.
If I was to hold KD to some sort of grammatical fastidiousness (yes, I too am going for that excess of the silver tongue) I would point out that the word ‘pathologically’ is redundant. ‘Mendacious’ after all suggests, not only a propensity to lie, but to do so habitually; pathology is already part of its meaning. But who gives a hoot? It might not add to the meaning, but it doesn’t detract from it either. And sometimes it’s about so much more than meaning. It’s about how language moves, and how it sounds. So truth be told, I too am laughing. I loved KD’s jibe. And more than that, I love that so many other Jamaicans love it – that in these times, we can delight in this thing that I have always delighted in – Language.
Incidentally, the dictionary offers another brutal quote as an example of the noun mendacity : “Among all the world’s races, some obscure Bedouin tribes possibly apart, Americans are the most prone to misinformation. This is not the consequence of any special preference for mendacity, although at the higher levels of their public administration that tendency is impressive. It is rather that so much of what they themselves believe is wrong.” – John Kenneth Galbraith