Matt Yglesias Pretends to Be Intellectual

Matt YglesiasIf there is one thing I can spot from 3000 miles away it is intellectual pretense. Why? Because I am the fucking intellectual pretense master! And if I am willing to call myself on it, you can bet that I’m going to call that twitter happy mother fucker Matt Yglesias on his!

Yglesias starts an otherwise interesting article (Not that I agree with him!) with this sentence: “Mitt Romney’s decision to use Sesame Street’s Big Bird character as a synecdoche for cutting funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting…”

Synecdoche? Really? Let me be blunt: I’m sure Yglesias had never even heard the word until he saw Synecdoche, New York. And there is nothing (Nada! Rien! Nichts!) that is more intellectually pretentious than repeating something you got from a movie!

But it’s worse that this. Yglesias clearly either didn’t look up the word or didn’t understand the definition. I understand this. “Synecdoche” is a hard word. But this is why those of us who try to push past our intellectual pretense into something actually intellectual are so tired all the time. This clearly does not apply to Yglesias who manages to write 7-10 articles and 50-100 tweets every day. (The man clearly needs a girlfriend, a boyfriend, or a dog.)

Anyway, back to my point: Big Bird is not a synecdoche of PBS funding. Big Bird is not even a synecdoche of Sesame Street! The idea behind the word “synecdoche” is the representation of the part for the whole. So we could use the muppets as a short hand for Sesame Street. We could say, “I don’t want to see the muppets out of work.” That would be a clever way to say, “I don’t want to see Sesame Street defunded.” Big Bird is a specific example, but he is not a class of things that make up Sesame Street. What Yglesias meant to use was something like “exemplar” or “representative.” But instead, he used “synecdoche” because, hey, all hip people are into Charlie Kaufman.

There is another reason why I don’t like Yglesias’ use of this word: almost no one knows it. And of those who do, 99 out of 100 know it because of the film. And that’s just fucked up.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Matt Yglesias Pretends to Be Intellectual

  1. @Scott – I’m not sure what your comment means. But let me add something to what I wrote above. I have pretty much given up my campaign to clarify what synecdoche means. It is just too hard. And let’s face it: it is not a very useful word. If I can do anything it will be to stop people from using it!

    Thank you! Thank you very much!

  2. Hi Frank,

    Ya, in retrospect, I can certainly see how my comment could be seen as vague, but I believe that you got the intended meaning when you took a verbal bow at the end of your response.

    It should be noted that I’m coming at this article with an almost complete lack of context. I do not know who Matt Yglesias is; I had never seen his article until I followed your link, cringed as I read his superfluously sesquipedalian and recondite malapropism (lol), and didn’t finish reading the article because of that, much in the same way that you would not continue eating a meal after biting into a turd that somehow made its way in there; I’ve never heard the ‘word’ "synecdouche," nor seen the movie in which it was created (thank god, I don’t think I could have survived 2 hours of listening to such a ridiculously bullshit word that sounds like it was made up because the writer didn’t have the firmest grasp on English vocabulary); hell, I don’t even know how I came across this gem of an article that you wrote.

    What I DO know, like you, is intellectual pretense, and I also consider myself a master at it (I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you find that pretentious or not).

    So, I’d imagine you’d feel the same cringe that I do when someone tries to, as you so eloquently put it (in a slightly different context, I know), "push past our intellectual pretense into something actually intellectual" and fails miserably at it.

    As much as I want to directly call people out on their painfully transparent, failed attempt at sounding smart, I never can.

    In most cases that I can think of, they are one of my friends, or some other person with whom I have a positive relationship. Obviously, that relationship might suffer if I told them that their attempts at not sounding like a blithering idiot were not only failing, but broadcasting their ignorance to those of us who ARE comfortable "pushing past our intellectual pretense into something actually intellectual." (lol)

    I infer (possibly incorrectly) from your article that you have some sort of professional rivalry (or at least disdain) for this Yglesias guy. In this letter/article, you have (more or less) said to him what I’ve been biting my tongue to stop myself from saying to a couple of my friends for years.

    Then there is the way it kinda irks me (perhaps it irks you too?) when people try to act more intelligent than they can pull off. Put on an intellectual pretense, sure. We all put on those airs. However, if you’re not smart enough to keep up the level of pretense that you’ve chosen to wear, then maybe you’re overreaching and are not ready to demand that people interact with you on that level.

    Reading this was a liberating experience, in a way, and one that I read while mentally cheering you on.

    So good on ya, buddy! Good work! Let him have it!

    Or paraphrased into only 2 words:

    *slow clap*

  3. @Scott – No, I don’t know Yglesias. He writes on finance. And he is very good. He reminds me a bit of myself at that age. And he is definitely the only person I regularly read who would use a word like "synecdoche." I would not slap at him if he were in college. It is just that he’s getting a little old for that kind of thing.

    Synecdoche is an old word. But it came into something of a vogue because of the Charlie Kaufman film [i]Synecdoche, New York[/i]. It is quite a good film; I write about it here:

    http://franklycurious.com/index.php?itemid=1559

    Intellectual pretense is part of Matt Yglesias’ style. I am most definitely not saying that he doesn’t live up to this. He is a very smart and well read guy.

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