Sun | Dec 10, 2023

Tony Deyal | Caribbean intelligence test

Published:Friday | July 14, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The Caribbean has a global reputation for the creativity of its people. The musical geniuses, the artists and poets, the celebrations and festivals are famous and can be used as indicators of the talent within us. The best proof, however, can be found in the streets of our capital cities.

Go for a walk in Kingston if you dare, stroll through Port-of-Spain if you and your bodyguards are armed, head for Cave Shepherd if you're in Bridgetown, or listen to the street chatter outside of Stabroek Market in Georgetown. What do you hear? The loud and continuous cursing, strings and streams of obscenities, four-letter words in greater abundance than the goods of the street vendors. That is your proof. Your evidence more solid than fingerprints or DNA.

A study by Kristin L. Jay and Timothy B. Jay shatters the common assumption that if all you can do is use cuss words, you have a limited vocabulary. Instead, what the study proves is that fluency is fluency, regardless of subject matter, and that there is no reason to propose a difference in lexicon size and ease of access for taboo as opposed to emotionally neutral words. In other words, those who can speak easily and familiarly about your anatomy and that of your mother and other relatives can be just as fluent about the cost of living, the prime minister or Donald Trump.

The Independent newspaper, in an article headlined 'Intelligent people tend to be messy, stay awake longer, and swear more', reinforces the point that if you think about it, those who don't use any swear words are the ones who limit their vocabulary. The Independent makes an even more important point people who could name the most swear words within a minute also tend to score higher on an IQ test. In other words, a rich vocabulary of swear words is a sign of rhetorical strength rather than the attempt to hide verbal deficits.

As a Trini, having been proven right, would say, "Take that in your rookoong ki toong koong", or use some other better known and more Caribbean expression which would cause the built-in swear-word detectors and censors in the computers of The Gleaner, Express and Nation News to reject this article.


Proof of genius


I would say that if the fluent and frequent use of obscenity is proof of genius, I have met and lived among many, many geniuses in my time. As Thomas Gray, the poet, mused as he walked through a country churchyard and considered the limitations that restrict many rural, or, in this case, Third World people from achieving their full potential, "Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest" and many flowers are born to cuss unseen and waste their sweetness on the desert air.

Listening to the convicts in Georgetown trying to break out of the burning prison which they themselves set alight, and the crowd blocking the street and expressing themselves raucously and with considerable emotion, or the angry cricket fans seeing the president of Cricket West Indies, Dave Cameron, pass across their line of vision, or the ministers of finance of both Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, or even their images in the newspapers on sale by itinerant street vendors, we have ample, adequate and even overwhelming proof of our native genius and geniuses.

Unfortunately, the ability to be obscene and not unheard is merely one component of the many criteria that together constitute genius. While it can be seen as a sign that the 'cussbud' (as they call the child prodigy in Trinidad) has one of the attributes required for ranking as a genius, it is not the sine qua non that confers the stamp of approval for immediate and automatic entry into Valholler where the Gods of cussing dwell.

Psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs found that intelligent people also tend to be messy, which accounts for the condition of the aforementioned capital cities of Kingston, Georgetown and Port-of-Spain and, to a lesser extent, Bridgetown. Ms Vohs has proof that messy rooms provoke more creative thinking or thinking outside the lines of "conventional" reasoning than tidy rooms. When it came to untidy, Einstein was a Messiah. He said, "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?" Two of my other heroes, Mark Twain and Steve Jobs, were also messy, and I really wish I had known that when my mother and, later, my wife fussed about the mess I wallowed in. Mess-merised though they were, little did they know that they were getting a first-hand and unique opportunity to observe and even pamper genius at work.

The third trait that must be present is already evident in the region from the Bahamas to Suriname and from Barbados to Belize. It is that scientific research now links night owls with higher IQ scores, and The Independent gives us a few examples, including Barack Obama, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Keith Richards and Elvis Presley. On the outskirts of Port-of-Spain is St James, the city that never sleeps. Bridgetown, in its heyday, had Baxter's Road, where the music was live and the jazz was lively. Kingston and Georgetown are famous (and infamous) for their nightlife. In other words, the four major Caribbean cities, replete as they are with mess, cussing and nightlife, demonstrate our genius. And if any of you doubt me, you know into what part of your or your immediate female ancestor's anatomy you can shove your extremely unwelcome criticisms.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that in the Caribbean life is a four-letter word that you hear frequently, but not as much and as often as most of the others.