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Monday, December 6, 2010

The King's Speech

The King’s Speech

As the movie critics sometimes say, “Run, don’t walk to see Colin Furth in The King’s Speech.”

Why run? Because Furth delivers a most moving portrait of a monarch, George VI, as he ascends the throne after his brother Edward’s abdication to marry Mrs. Simpson in 1936.

George VI suffered from what they then called a “stammer.” He choked up when he had to speak in public and this is something a monarch does rather often, especially if his country is heading into World War II against a man with Hitler’s articulate passion for enflaming his people against the world.

Furth recently recalled that he had what actors call an emotional memory of his fear of public speaking:

When he was eight years old he was caught talking in class and the punishment was rather severe. “The teacher said, `Oh, do you want to give the lesson?’" The following week, after several sleepless nights, Furth was made to teach an hour-long class on the topic of soil. "It’s the only thing I ever really learned during my entire school years,” he said. "I still remember words like loam and subsoil, and different levels and layers. I brought in samples and little test tubes.’” (The New Yorker, 12/6/ 2010, p. 30)

Here we see the efficacy of teaching. If you want to learn something, teach it. If you want to know if students understand something, challenge them to teach it to those who are novices.

Of course, there is the element of total fear about this learning experience and we would not want to terrify our students by putting them in Furth’s position. The actor said, “It was punishment.”

“The King’s Speech” demonstrates once again the vitality of our speech patterns, our ways of communicating. We can joke, as The New Yorker did recently, about being the only “between you and me” chap in a “between you and I” world. But for those of us who really care about “the King’s English,” as my mother always did, it’s vital to pay attention to words, their pronunciation, usage, their connotations and denotations and even their derivations. What a joy it is when we learn that “stammer” is derived from the Old English word “stamerian. . .related to stumble." That’s just what Furth did as King George VI, stumble over his words as if he had these natural or psychological blocks deep within his psyche.

Language usage sets certain expectations.

I always remember Elizabeth Barell correcting those in the media for saying, “This is a really/most/very unique experience” or rather strongly chastising them for mis-pronouncing the word “dour.” The latter drove her crazy.

What are words? They are our means of communications amongst ourselves, our concepts for understanding the world (from pen and peace to Pater Noster) and, finally, they are most assuredly magical, mysterious human creations for exploration and discovery of newer worlds of awe and wonder.

Words reveal our souls, passions, aspirations and the stories we tell with our lives.

Attention must, therefore, be paid.

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