Tuesday, July 19, 2016


My friend Mark Harris Virshbo knows the name for everything especially if that thing is a malady of the mind.  One day he told me about echolalia.  Echolalia is the repetition of a word or phrase spoken by another.  Infants do it as they are learning the meaning of sounds.  Otherwise it’s the immediate, meaningless and mechanical repetition of a word or phrase spoken by another.
In psychology, which is Mark’s place of business, echolalia is what crazies do as they walk down the street muttering to themselves or broadcasting some mumbo-jumbo as if there was something soothing or significant in the retelling.
There is no end of echolalia in our public discourse as well.  No sooner has some pundit or other public person characterized an issue, there are those who will parrot it.  Never mind that most of the time these words and phrases are for the purpose of defamation. Never mind that these characterizations are often the output of a focus group with the single charm of dumbing-down an issue of importance.

Reducing issues of importance to short, mostly meaningless words and phrases is bad for us.  It relieves us of studying the matter for ourselves.  It elevates the importance of coining such catchphrases.  And, when they are revealed to be baked in a bull, we have nothing invested. We can let them go as if we had never said them over and over and over and over and over and over.

1 comment:

Lanny V Stricherz said...

I am rewatching Cheers on Netflix for the second time. Your quote to illustrate Echolalia, "Infants do it as they are learning the meaning of sounds," brought to mind a recent episode of Cheers, that I watched. Fraser and Lilith had brought their little son Fredrick in and were bemoaning the fact that he still wasn't speaking, even though he was not quite one year old. The door opened and in walks Norm. Fredrick says, "Norm" before anyone else in the bar hollers "Norm". As they say, from the mouths of babes.