Because of The Times We Live In, there are a great many things one might shy away from uttering aloud. Lest the real-life Thought Police, who haven’t yet been able to infiltrate the mind, call one out for being offensive, affronting and generally wrong as a person. Among such potential offenses is indicating, in any way, that someone who misuses language is, well, a bit daft. Dare one even go so far as to say stupid. For that borders on being construed as making fun of people with learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia) and that is among the list of major infractions du moment. But to remark on someone’s seeming delight over wielding words incorrectly isn’t “disrespectful”—rather, wielding words incorrectly is disrespectful to Language itself.
And, of course, it’s no secret that the greatest perpetrators of this form of disrespect are moneyed white men. For why bother speaking properly when one’s money does all of the “eloquent” talking for them? That’s the inherent “logic” that seems to drive billionaire buffoon Miles Bron (Edward Norton) in Glass Onion, Rian Johnson’s latest “Knives Out Mystery” (a term, apparently, that was not cared for by the director). Naturally, no one—not even the great detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig)—is supposed to know that he’s a buffoon (the same goes for Elon Musk, who simply can’t be, if for no other reason than he has Asperger’s, per his announcement on SNL in 2021). Nor would anybody even dream of it… because the automatic assumption, to this day, remains that affluence is to intelligence as poverty is to “ignorance.” Society at large conditions us to believe that those with “the necessary means” are able to access what the United States has effectively rendered as “luxuries”: chief among such “luxuries” being the right to a decent education.
In other words, what rich folks pay out the nose to get for their kids with private schools and Ivy Leagues. But these institutions ultimately end up teaching so much less about life than a public school. Because only in a public school is one made truly aware of what actual intelligence looks like, with those who attend far more motivated to prove their worth scholastically than any of the tits at private school who can simply take comfort in the cocoon of their privilege. Just look at, for example, private school tit George W. Bush. The village idiot that everyone so often forgets was “running the country” with a similar “roguishness” (a polite euphemism) to Donald Trump before Donald Trump came along to do the same with far more 80s villain cartoonishness (and without Dick Cheney as his own personal Iago).
Bush (and Trump, for that matter) provides a classic example of the rich boy who had access to the “best” of everything, including the Ivy League. And yet, just because Bush got into Yale doesn’t mean he excelled in his classes there, securing what is known as the “Yale C.” A polite way of saying: his GPA was shit—2.35. Despite his lackluster (to use an understatement) academic performance, the university nonetheless saw fit to reward Bush with the Yale College Council’s Undergraduate Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. Because when you bomb another country that has no weapons of mass destruction, well, that certainly is an achievement, isn’t it? What’s more, Bush was in the illustrious Skull and Bones “secret” society, so that surely added another layer to his Yale cachet.
The true “lifetime achievement” of Bush, however, is not only stealing the 2000 election, but also ever daring to speak in public during his presidency as he spouted what Blanc would dub(ya) “a veritable minefield of malapropisms.” A nonstop barrage that persisted from the beginning to end of his “reign” (for he did once say it would be far easier to be a dictator). There was: “I’m the decider.” And who could forget: “They misunderestimated me.” But there were so many more, among the most egregious being: “We’ll let our friends be the peacekeepers and the great country called America will be the pacemakers,” “There is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I’m sorry it’s the case, and I’ll work hard to try to elevate it,” “Is our children learning?” and “Too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across the country.”
While it might seem like Bush was the inventor of malapropisms, funnily (or sexistly) enough, the origin of the word comes from a female character named Mrs. Malaprop, from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s first play, The Rivals (which debuted in 1775). A quintessential “comedy of manners,” Mrs. Malaprop portrays the guardian of Lydia, the “marriageable” lead character. And yet, it was Mrs. Malaprop who took the spotlight with such malapropisms as, “Why, murder’s the matter! slaughter’s the matter! killing’s the matter!—but he can tell you the perpendiculars,” “The pineapple of politeness” and “…she’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.” That Mrs. Malaprop herself hails from high society (by eighteenth-century Bath standards), yet can’t speak for shit, is the genesis of pulling back the curtain to reveal that the well-to-do are, actually, quite dumb.
This isn’t about mocking someone with “learning issues” so much as acknowledging that, because of the nature of “aristocratic” existence offering nothing but sycophants who would never dare correct a rich person, the latter has come to believe that all the non-words and grammatical errors they make can only be “precise.” And to be told otherwise—after a lifetime of being “obliged” in their delusions of “brilliance”—simply can’t compute. Or instead, they “change the narrative.” Having such “speech quirks” thusly doesn’t mean being “dense,” it means being a “disruptor” (the term with which Miles has christened himself and “members of his gang”). Disrupting not only “the status quo” (by harming the little people in order to make more money), but also language. After all, rich fucks can’t be hemmed in by rules, not even those dictated by spelling and grammar.
Nonetheless, Benoit essentially “unmasks” Miles, with a tonally Scooby-Doo flourish, by announcing to the others on the island, “Miles Bron is an idiot!” (subsequently referring to him as a “vainglorious buffoon”). And, again, the “gall” of Benoit stating the obvious in a political climate like 2022, wherein stating the obvious is an ultimate kind of effrontery, is one of the boldest choices Johnson makes for Glass Onion (apart from “allowing” a straight man to play a gay detective). For he takes on the risk of being as “cancellable” as Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), who asserts the same kind of woe-is-me rhetoric that might be interpreted within the contents of this very article in that “you can’t say anything anymore.” The difference being, people like that want to have the “freedom” to parade their stupidity, bigotry and racism without the risk of being deemed offensive (e.g., Birdie “dressing as Beyoncé” or running her sweatpants operation out of a sweatshop in Bangladesh because she thought the “sweat” part sounded like a natural fit for the manufacturing of the product). As was once so permissible in the heyday of Bush malapropisms.
Incidentally, in the final year of his presidency, Bush declared, “I’ll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office.” Sadly, there was to be no truly smart person (sorry Obama acolytes, for the benchmark wasn’t set very high before he came along). And it’s difficult to say if there ever really was. For power (and the according wealth that goes with it) is but a smokescreen for presumed intelligence, with malapropisms like Miles’ “inbreathiate” being rebranded as “the mark of genius,” “Shakespearean-level wordplay,” etc.
Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.) phrases it best at the beginning of Glass Onion when, on a Zoom call (because it’s the outset of lockdown in 2020) with fellow Alpha employees, he asks of a series of Miles’ nonsensical faxes, “You tell me: genius or insanity?” (replace that last word with “dull-wittedness”). Lionel then proceeds to read some of the faxes: “Uber for biospheres. AI in dogs = discourse.” The faces on the screen stare back at him in horror. They can see that, similar to the self-proclaimed and formerly acclaimed “genius” known as Kanye, it’s all just gibberish signifying nothing. Other than society’s willingness to elevate the stupid to a godlike status if they happen to be billionaires. Which means they could probably pay off the “dictionary people” to add in any of the words they make up (“covfefe,” for instance)… if, that is, a billionaire wanted to waste their money on something as inconsequential as language.