Inarticulate Men

The Arts

It seems we all enjoy stories about the Inarticulate Male. On TV they’re never women, who might be clumsy (‘Miranda’) or venal (‘Nighty Night’), but are never incoherent. Males, particularly funny ones, have a long history of being annoying and hard to understand, from British TV shows featuring forgetful, confusing Harry Worth and Charlie Drake’s ‘The Worker’ (‘I want to be a lady ’cause I ain’t had much luck as a man’), to Norman Wisdom’s gurning, defiantly working class disrupter.

It goes back further, to John Steinbeck’s man-child Lemmy in ‘Of Mice and Men’, and to Jerry Lewis, shrill and demented to the point of imbecility. Lewis and Wisdom share mannerisms that remind one of Frankenstein, uncoordinated and barely able to communicate, forced to allow feelings out with explosive force.

To these should be added Count Arthur Strong, who is more deranged and forgetful version of Arthur Bryant, without the intellect or sentimentality. Steve Delaney has made it his life’s work to create a realistic character who is a fully rounded, believable person. Count Arthur shares certain characteristics with other British anti-heroes, including some of the delusional pomposity of David Brent in ‘The Office’ and Hancock’s cynical failed actor.

The dysfunctional male also surfaces in the creations of comics Ricky Gervais and Steve Coogan, indeed in almost every character they play, although I find them less bearable as we are required to laugh at them without finding much that’s redeemable, so that all we end up feeling is pity and embarrassment.

To this long list we can now add a ne plus ultra of timeless inarticulacy in Stath, from ‘Stath Lets Flats’, an incoherent English-as-second-language Greek Cypriot letting agent played by Fleabag’s Jamie Demetriou, whose real-life sister appears as his slightly more articulate but even less bright sibling (she also turns up in the superb ‘What We Do In The Shadows’ spin-off series).

Demetriou draws on his own background (especially his father, who once made a £15 bet that the name of the ship in ‘Titanic’ was the Mary Rose), allowing his character to reach Basil Fawlty levels of incompetence. In one episode he attends a mindfulness session which quickly exposes everyone else’s bigotry and hatred, thus forcing us onto his side. And therein lies the trick; the awful, muddled, inarticulate man we’d go out of our way to avoid becomes a hero by virtue of his innocence, a purblind Don Quixote in a world of dull cynics – and so we are aligned with his optimistic worldview.

But in a time when the most extreme examples of the Male Inarticulate hold public office, from the borderline mentally-ill Trump to sinister fantasist Boris Johnson and terrified weakling Jeremy Corbyn, perhaps comic creations like Stath and Count Arthur can be seen as benign well-meaning role models.

17 comments on “Inarticulate Men”

  1. Peter Tromans says:

    Inarticulate does not mean dysfunctional, unintelligent or sinister. Indeed, some of the most articulate people are outstanding in their stupidly – several politicians leap to mind. Much of the good in our world is thanks to inarticulate men. Do you seriously classify the three lunatics, President, PM and Labour leader as inarticulate, suffering difficulty in expressing their ideas or feelings? For me, they express too well. I’d replace any or all of them with inarticulates.

  2. admin says:

    I’d say Mr Trump was ‘bigly’ inarticulate.

  3. Brooke says:

    Re; inarticulate. Balderdash. Don’t mistake abuse of the language and lack of good manners for inarticulate. T speaks as he does to play on feelings–of his voting base and others. He’s learned to use US cultural biases–anti-intellectualism, love of simple answers, etc. The repetitivveness, “great,really great, the best” is a rhetorical devise, well known to evangelical preachers, to create fervor without thought. E.g. “Next election, I’m gonna win 150% of the vote.” (Implications of that#!?)

    Agree with Peter T about owing thanks to inarticulate men; they are probably very articulate in their own sphere. E.g firefighters at Notre Dame efficiently doing hard, dangerous work. In contrast, T was very articulate in his advice– use flying water tankers to stop the fire.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I find Trump’s sentences very disjointed and incomplete, which suggests inarticulate to me. Boris J. well fantasist seems more appropriate there. (This morning he was saying that the Chief Justice had come to a wrong decision about the prorogation. Now, “the learned judge did err in law” is a perfectly acceptable response to an undesired verdict but not here, I think. And Mr. Corbin hasn’t made enough of an impression for me to have an opinion.
    Of course, we now have a PM who apparently can’t read an invitation correctly (black tie does not include costumes). Pair that with his habit of stammering at the beginning of every statement and there might be a definite problem. (So insecure in his own persona that he desires the anonymity of a costume and so hesitant about speaking his own mind that he stumbles? If this is true then his father has much to answer for.) I’m not sure where this puts young Justin.

  5. Peter Tromans says:

    George Stephenson and Paul Dirac were called inarticulate by many. Though I would never consider myself as near their level of genius or contribution to the world, I’d definitely say that I am inarticulate, which may be why I reacted a little.

    Trump and Boris suffer ‘bigly’ from pseudologia fantastica.* A general vagueness is the most immediately obvious feature. That combined with an inability to listen or pay attention can give the impression of an inability to articulate, but, in fact, they articulate what they want to say very well. They both certainly string enough words sufficiently well to connect with enough people and ‘fool most of the people, most of the time.’

    We shouldn’t confuse inarticulate with illiterate. ‘Bigly’ does suggest illiteracy, but it communicates with the common man. Boris found his way through Oxford and supposedly wrote his dreadful books, but … . If you look at Dirac’s ‘Principles of Quantum Mechanics’, it may be abstract and close to incomprehensible for most of us, but it’s beautifully written by a man who, beneath his inarticulate surface, was as literate as he was numerate.

    *pseudologia fantastica = bigly name for the condition of a compulsive purveyor of pork pies.

  6. Roger says:

    “I have nothing to say and I am not saying it and it is comedy.”
    Unfortunately it’s persuasive political rhetoric now.

  7. Ian Luck says:

    The Labour Party aren’t having a lot of luck with their leaders recently, have they? There was the whining kid who couldn’t even eat a bacon sandwich without looking like he’d been asked to osculate a selection of zoo animals, and the one ‘in charge’ now, looks like the sort of derelict old man, who has lost all his self control and dignity, and now spends his days lurking by the swings in the park, inviting children to view non existent puppies.

  8. Liz Thompson says:

    A lot depends on whether you define articulate as producing a ready flow of words, or whether you expect those words to make sense and be intelligent. It is unfortunately the case that politicians in general, both male and female alas, can invariably produce the flow of words, it’s how they get elected. Content however is extremely variable. Ability to abide by the content if elected is even rarer. I won’t mention specific politicians, you can fill the gaps yourselves.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    ‘Osculate’, by the way, means ‘To Kiss’, as in the everyday phrase:
    “Osculate the panduriform Ecdysiast.”

  10. Helen Martin says:

    I’m trying to imagine a violin shaped strip tease artist, Ian.

  11. Lauren says:

    My literary OCD makes me do it: “Lenny”, not “Lemmy”, in Of Mice and Men.

  12. Ian Luck says:

    Helen, I was looking at a Man Ray book – and one of his most famous pictures, I believe he called it ‘Le Viol d’Ingres’, which is the view of the back of a nude model, to which two ‘F’ holes as found on stringed instruments, and made of paper were stuck, creating a very pleasing violin shape. That is the basis of my entry – and possibly correct, as a lot of Man Ray’s models were exotic dancers from some of the racier clubs in 1920’s Paris.
    I love the word ‘Panduriform’ – it is virtually pointless, and yet it exists.

  13. Ian Luck says:

    Lauren – Oh, how I wish it had been the late, great Lemmy in ‘Of Mice And Men’…

    P.S. – I prefer ‘Cannery Row’ myself. It’s like every Tom Waits song I’ve ever loved made into a brilliant, and very funny book.

  14. Helen Martin says:

    Ian, as soon as you said Man Ray I knew exactly the picture to which you referred, a wonderful thing.
    I wanted to connect panduriform to pandas but even thinking only about the “pan” part doesn’t take you to the heavily lobed shape the biologists are referring to, especially plant leaves.

  15. Wayne Mook says:

    I can think of a few Paul Whitehouse characters, Rowley Birkin QC (I was very, very drunk.) and Ted. Not forgetting those characters of the golden tongue, Bill and Ben. I guess one of the earliest examples is Stan Laurel when he is upset. Plus the 15 episodes of Mr. Bean.

    When it comes to politics you only have to convince enough of the people at the right time.


  16. Ian Luck says:

    I heard someone on a radio show say that they had looked at many of Trump’s speeches, such as they were, and calculated his vocabulary from them. The result was no surprise: it was that of a twelve year old – and not a very bright twelve year old, at that. Astonishingly, this might mean that there’s an American President who is thicker tha George W. Bush. Anyone else worried by this?

  17. Ian Luck says:

    I’m worried that the ‘N’ from ‘Than’ is missing, from a sentence about thick people, though.

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