Monday, December 2, 2013

Fencing with Words

From Foil Fence Sketches, by Luis  Lázaro Tijerina

A friend recently showed me some sketches which form part of a sketch series intended to honor the Soviet fencer Vladimir Smirnov and Hungarian fencers Aldár Garevich and Katalin Izsò.

I  was struck by how many of the terms used in this sport describe strategies one might intentionally or inadvertently use in conversational wordings.  In fencing,  "conversation" is 'the back-and-forth play of the blades, composed of phrases (phrases d'armes) punctuated by gaps of 'no blade action'.  In real-life exchanges, of the verbal variety, words or  phrases are sometimes inserted into conversations, that alarm or emotionally maim.  ("Rattling one's sabre" comes to mind.)   The recipient is sometimes caught by surprise, and responds as if cornered, unable to effectively "foil".   They thought they were having a simple conversation.  At what point did it become necessary to mount some sort of defense?

Fencers learn specific actions to block, confuse, delay, deceive or elicit a predicted response from the opponent. Not every conversant is aware that they're the 'opponent' or that it's sometimes a game where one party does not intend to lose.  Word battles and staged battles, the goal is to win.

Fencing is a kind of graceful battle dance sans music where one is given a special type sword to pit his/her fighting skills against an opponent . The words "dance around the issue" dances to mind, where one strategically or creatively waffles, eludes, dodges or sidesteps, to avoid, rather than confront the 'Other.'  The object of a fencing match is to defend oneself and emerge the victor.  Verbal matches often end in compromise.  It was not so much the final outcome but each respective situation's relation to strategizing that tweaked  my interest.

Verbal parrying, while it can be somewhat likened to a fencing tactic, differs in that it is often carried out solely to exhibit one's expressionistic largesse, such as a bloviating speechifier holding restive, reluctant listeners captive, not by his imagined vocal eloquence but the inability of his listeners to effect a significant riposte.  (That last sentence may well qualify as an example of bloviatism.)  What I meant to say was, we all 'fence' in a way, with or without training, with or without rules, with or without expecting to win..

Poetic challenge of the day:  Write a warning poem about those incorrigible, indefatigable,  thoroughly unrepentant lippyversifiers, pontificators, scribbleholics, or talkerhighnesses, whose web you may have inadvertently found yourself being sucked into, using terms from the Fencing Glossary.    Here goes:

En garde

Worders invite us to engage -
which for some is just a "warming up"
fencing us in for what is yet to come.
Parrying at high octave, they resist all
attempts to counter this relentless  wordpoking, jabbing, piercing
at each's defensive mask,  to
capsize/mesmerize/ . . . effectuize
displacement, one
                        at a time   . . .  until
even the most determined leaver
abandons any thought of fleching,
astounded at the worder's sheer,


*No apologies for including made-up words (such as the nonexistent adjective "balestric",
derived from the noun balestra, which in the Fencing Glossary means "a forward hop or jump"--or for making a verb of the noun fleche (in fencing, "an attack in which the aggressor leaps and attempts to make a hit, then passes the opponent at a run").  And yes, there is no such word as "effectuize", but "effectuate" got rejected by Caps and Mesmer for not having an "ize" ending.   The majority ruled in that line, what can I say.