Words can indeed make a man

In recent columns I have touched on the importance (or insignificance, depending on the subject) of words.

In recent columns I have touched on the importance (or insignificance, depending on the subject) of words.

Listening to Barack Obama, Darling Number Two of the world after our Madiba, I just marvelled at how this fellow drops profound, classic gems every time he opens his mouth, even when he speaks off the cuff.

At the peak of my youthful arrogance, I thought I had myself made such clever pronouncements that they could match the Kwame Nkrumas and Martin Luther Kings of this world - but nobody cared or took any notice.

But listening to Obama, with the benefit of age, I have to admit I could never hold a candle to the man, and many more who came before him.

But then I had my innings in my time, for which I should be grateful. I grew up in an era when dropping a monstrous English word earned you kudos. It did not matter much that your grammar was vrot. It was the big words - the bombastic jaw-breakers - that made you king.

Once, during a high school debate, I thanked "the jury (there was no damn jury, but the system allowed us to get away with it), adjudicators and the house at large ..."

The line was so cliched I don't think anybody gave a damn. As I was going through my speech, there was an indifferent hubbub in the school hall that suggested the audience could not give a damn what the debate was all about.

Then I dropped my jaw-breaker ... I challenged the opposition for lacking honorificabilitudinity.

I could have said "honour", but why go for a soft word if you can bamboozle 'em?

The house erupted. Boys whistled and the girls ululated as the bemused teachers, probably also flummoxed by the big word, smiled sheepishly.

When the noise died down, I continued for the last few moments I had until I sat down to more applause.

In the end, I was announced the best speaker of the day.

Not because I had said anything profound - in fact, I thought my facts were crappy.

But they loved big words, and I gave them just that.

Perhaps I should blame my mother for that - big words I did not understand.

When I was at lower primary school, she told me to tell anyone who asked what I wanted to be when I grew up that I wanted to be a "DD - Doctor of Divinity".

I did and it sounded fantastic until I got to like and believe it. There were not too many professions going for black folks then, so the other kids would be confined to "wanting" to be doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, nurses, teachers, shopkeepers.

I remember my teacher, Ms Phokwane Modisane, asking the class to applaud me ... "there's a boy who knows what he wants to be. Matsohong!"

That was until I left school and got to think about it - "DD - Doctor of Divinity."

A priest.