Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Leslie daFox walked into the auditorium at the Camberwick Community Centre with a feeling of trepidation.  Somewhere behind him were two police officers, who he mentally thought of as Comedy policeman #1 and unfunny sidekick, who were steadily getting fitter as Leslie insisted on walking up the four flights of stairs between here and his office every time.  He could hear them labouring along, and waited just inside the doors.  Not because he felt sorry for them, but because there had, in the course of four months, been four murders committed around him and he was getting nervous that he was being stalked by a tediously incompetent killer.  Quite possibly, he mused, one of his students.  They’d shown a remarkable degree of incompetence in their homework and their critical thinking capacity in his lectures, so why not be utterly unable to kill the right person when given the opportunity?
“That must be a record,” he said to Comedy policeman #1 as he reached Leslie.  He was only slightly pink in the face, and he’d already got his breathing back under control, unlike his chubbier colleague who was still wheezing like a leaky pair of bellows.  “I think it only took you four minutes to climb the stairs today.”  The policeman glared at him but said nothing.  They’d been taken aside by their line manager a week earlier after bringing Leslie in for questioning for the fifth time and been ungently reprimanded.  Leslie was fairly certain he wasn’t supposed to know the details, but they’d been shouted at in the interview room next to the one he’d been in, and the walls were quite thin.  Their line manager’s big complaint had been that they’d let a young woman get murdered in the supermarket because they were too busy trying to trick Leslie into confessing in the next aisle.
“Has he murdered anyone yet?” asked the sidekick, leaning against the wall and resting his hands on his broad thighs.  That he had to pause to gasp air between ‘murdered’ and ‘anyone’ made him seem just a little pathetic.
“We’ll have to see,” said Comedy policeman #1.  “Lead the way to the abattoir, Sir.”
“Auditorium,” corrected Leslie, hoping that it was a correction.  “If you were in my class you’d be on the failing list, you know.”
“Along with all the rest of your students, Sir?”
“Hah.”  Leslie said nothing more, but he privately agreed with the policeman.  He sometimes wondered if the Community Centre administrators deliberately set out to mismatch students with courses.
The auditorium was blood- and corpse-free, much to Leslie’s relief, and his students were huddled together in a semicircle of seats in the third and fourth rows.  The students on the outside looked scared, and the ones in the middle looked more confident, based purely on the student-thinking that the lecturer would be like a lion and pick prey off from the outside of the herd rather than risking running into the middle.  Leslie shook his head, unaware that to the students that this looked like the judgement of Caesar before they’d even had a chance to fight.
“Have you heard of slanters?” asked Leslie.  He’d given up bringing up notes to his lectures because by the time he was half-way through the class were hopelessly behind and lost.  He now talked about general topics and set huge reading lists instead.  He knew the class wouldn’t cope, but at least this way he didn’t have to see it.  There was no response from the audience, and there were no astonishingly-educated janitorial staff around to answer for them, so he looked at the policeman.
“Italic text?” guessed Comedy policeman #1.  Leslie’s half-lidded gaze wasn’t clear to him, but he’d actually just stepped up a point in his estimation.
“No, but a very reasonable guess,” said Leslie.  “Add that to your homework list, please, class: make a reasonable guess of an answer to my questions next week.  A slanter is what an American would call many of the rhetorical devices, on the grounds that they are intended to bias, or slant the listener towards the speaker’s point of view.  This, of course, completely misses the point of rhetoric: it is intended to convince the audience of a particular point of view and will necessarily only contain objective statements where they are already aligned with the speaker’s intentions.  So the whole speech is “slanted” if you will, and there are no individuals slanters within it.
“But still.  Some nice simple examples of such slanters are euphemism and dysphemism, which as their names suggest are antonyms.  Now, hands-up anyone who actually understood what I just said.”
No hands raised from the audience.  Leslie looked at his bodyguard, but neither policeman raised their hands either.
“Right,” he said.  “Euphemism derives from the greek root Eu- meaning good.  A euphemism is a good description, in the sense of it describes things as better than they really are.  Have any of you, at all, by any chance, heard of any other words that begin with Eu-?”
Two hands went up in the audience and Leslie wondered if it would be appropriate to die from shock.  He pointed to the first hand.
“Utopia, Mr. Foxy?”  The speaker was a pimply young man called Steve who Leslie thought should have enrolled on a basic comprehension skills course before coming here, so this was graduate level thinking from him.
“Sadly not,” said Leslie.  “The U in Utopia is coincidental.  You?”  He pointed at the other hand.
“Euthanasia, Sir?”  The speaker this time was a middle-aged woman in a camel-print blouse and skirt that made her look a little bovine.
“Yes!”  Leslie’s note of excitement was audible to everyone.  “Yes!  Well done!  Euthanasia, perfect!  Eu- meaning good, and thanasia from thanatos meaning death.”
“Did you just get excited about a word meaning good-death, Sir?” asked the sidekick.  Leslie glared at him.
“I got excited about my class knowing the answer to my question,” he said.  “Now shush.  Class, antonyms are word-pairs that are opposites, like black and white.  So if euphemism and dysphemism are opposites, what would the opposite of euthanasia be?”
Again, Steve’s hand rose, and Leslie, surprised as could be, nodded to him.
“Dysthanasia?  As in, like, bad-death?”
“And what kind of death would a bad-death be, then, Sir?” asked Comedy policeman #1.
“Oh I don’t know,” said Leslie.  “It’s hardly something anyone thinks about.  Drowning, I ‘d have thought, that seems pretty horrible.  Or maybe burning to death in a fire.”
“Murder?  Are you a dysthanatic, Sir?”

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