Thursday, December 14, 2017

On Sophistication

It's hard to believe in this time of Trump but there once was a thing known as sophistication.
Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn embodied sophistication.
The word came to English from Latin but its progress from antiquity is fascinating. It started as a Greek word, sophistes, meaning wise man or teacher. When the Romans got it their less cultured society dismissed the discussions of wise men as the quibbles of fraudsters. Their word, sophisticare, meant using wisdom to delude and confuse.

It was with that meaning that the word entered English in the 14th century. As the Renaissance blossomed in the 16th century, intelligence was no longer reviled. Being sophisticated was no longer an insult. Instead, to be educated and worldly was seen as virtues to be aspired to.

In America today, we are seeing a revision to the barbaric definition of sophisticated as a condition decent people avoid. Education and travel are the realm of the hated elites. A majority of Republicans now believe that colleges are bad for America. They argue that schools teach unimportant things like science, math, biology, and history and that children should be left on their own to somehow learn whatever they fancy. They insist that faith is more important than knowledge.
Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise.
Sophistication inspired Duke Ellington in 1932, remembering his teachers who taught school and traveled in the summer. They were truly Sophisticated Ladies.

Lots of people have recorded"Sophisticated Lady" but the definitive interpretation belongs to Ella Fitzgerald. (Lyrics by Irving Mills)

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