K.I.S.S. once more

02 November 2012
Author   J.W. ASHEEKE

I HAVE a friend that uses this term all the time: “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” K.I.S.S.


Basically it is a plea to be direct, straight to the point, concise and uncomplicated. Speaking simply is more of a challenge than using razzle, dazzle linguistics just to say something basic. I can, at times, be an excitable, loquacious (talkative!) person particularly when I am passionate about the subject at hand. When that happens, I can be complicated, give TMI (too much information!) and have a rapid-fire delivery. My friends help me out by saying: “Jackie: Chill Out - K.I.S.S.” It helps me focus.

The main point of communication is to be understood. It is not just to hear yourself speak or read what you have written or to make noise.

I could quote Thucydides, Aquinas, Plutarch or De Tocqueville, to make a point on a range of issues. I could cite Fanon, Dubois, Padmore or Nkrumah to give examples of certain views on Pan-Africanism and African unity. Having a Master’s Degree in International Affairs, I can speak and write of Graham Allison, Kalypso Nicolidis, Kissinger, or W. Ofuatey-Kodjoe, but, what’s the point there? Unless you are communicating in an academic setting, it’s better to basically tell the folks what’s what in a way they can relate to.

Giving your interpretation of the ideas, conclusions and findings of great thinkers and experts as a part of what you say and couching it in everyday language is difficult.To do that you need to use words and phrases that relate to your audience. Failing to do that; means you could well be wasting your audience’s time AND making a whole lot of unnecessary noise.

I have a limit of 1,300 words for this column. For a normally fast and prolific writer like me, it takes me a couple of days to get my main points streamlined to meet that target. It’s fun, but it’s not easy. I would bet that most of us have suffered through articles, books, speeches or lectures from people who are a legend in their own minds; they can’t be bothered with concise, down-to-earth messages or presentation in the context of the audience.

I once saw a Shakespearean play in San Francisco that translated the old English Elizabethan language into terms and references for a 1980s urban USA audience.

For example, take “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” and a conversation between two of the women characters, Hermia and Helena, about a man. This guy, Demetrius loves/wants to marry Hermia, but Hermia doesn’t love him; she loves Lysander, another man. At the same time, Helena loves Demetrius, but he is fixated on Hermia and not even thinkin’ about Helena. This is deliciously spicy stuff with plot twists and turns!

OK… here is some of how Shakespeare writes it (Act One, Scene One): “…[Helena says:] Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated, the rest I’d give to be to you translated… O, teach me how you look, and with what art you sway the motion of Demetrius’ heart…” Then, Hermia responds: “…I frown upon him, yet he loves me still…I give him curses, yet he gives me love…the more I hate, the more he follows me….His folly is no fault of mine.” Helena says: “O that your frowns would teach my smiles such skill! O that my prayers could such affection move…the more I love, the more he hateth me…” and so on.

Complete gibberish? Yep. That language wasn’t written for our times; yet, the story line is universal and timeless… that is the real genius of Shakespeare.

Here is the deal: Helena is really sayin’: “Girl, you should show me how you do what you do to keep that man runnin’ after you! He’s ‘Denzel-fine;’I want him to run after me like that. I want him soooo bad, but my moves don’t attract him. You gotta give a sista a break and tell me what you do to keep him so hooked on you. Then, Hermia is sayin’: “Honey, you look good and I wish that hommie would realize it and go for you instead of me. You and him should definitely be together. I’m with someone else already; he doesn’t get it even though I’ve told him straight to his face that I don’t want him.”

Now that is Shakespeare, ‘hood style! K.I.S.S.

When I saw that play where the actors used street lingo, I related to it better. How many times in real life are there love mix-ups where someone is in love with someone who doesn’t love them and loves someone else, but they fail to recognize that there is yet another person who they never even thought about who actually does love them?

It sounds messy, but it’s so common place in all cultures and with all people. Shakespeare wrote for his world and actually wrote lusty, dramatic and comical things to appeal to the basic folks in the cheap seats in front of the stage. Using the same play or poems, he wrote veiled political themes, more complex social observations and criticisms for the aristocrats sitting in the expensive seats.

Language gaps can make basic communication even harder! I fight hard every day to slow down when I speak my brand of English. I try to not use ‘hood slang, and not use subtleties or innuendo. I was just at the Municipality Building to query a problem with our bill and the brotha’ behind the desk couldn’t understand me for the first five minutes of the conversation. I had to repeat myself three times, before he could understand enough of what was being said to be able to ask me to repeat myself again. At the end of the day, he turned to my husband to ask what I was talking about. I failed to communicate.

When writing one of my stories about the things that I see normal people doing, I could say: Ah, the halcyon days always manage to manifest themselves in the scarcity of garb donned by those of feminine wiles. Less can be better, but only if the individual sporting the meagre costume has a physique appropriate to the amount of fabric used in the garment.

But, in the spirit of K.I.S.S., instead I would write: It’s summer time ya’ll! And it is hot again. When it gets hot, too many women wear skimpy outfits to keep cool. Less is better, but if you are a nicely large-sized person you cannot wear something that has your ‘goodies’hangin’ out. Size 6 or 8 sistas can wear fashions that size 22 and 24 sistas cannot and that is a fact! And, the opposite is true. Those skinny sistas with flattened ‘girls’ need not wear something so tight across the top that they advertise a cleavage they really don’t have. So choose your summer outfits with your butt size in mind and leave something to the imagination; choose clothes that show that you respect yourself!

Another example (Lofty language): I don’t take a leisurely promenade to imbibe at my favourite upscale bistro to tickle my palate and excite my senses. (K.I.S.S.): I take a relaxed walk to a restaurant I like to get something good to eat.

See my point? Communication is about being understood and keeping it real like the Windhoek Larger commercial.

There are those however, who would argue that using K.I.S.S. is ‘dumbing it down’. It could be seen as assuming that your audience does not have the intelligence to digest complex paragraph-long sentences, words with 10 letters, overly detailed text using fancy adjectives or communications referencing foreign or historic names, and quotations.

To those that think in such a way: C’est la vie! Que sera, sera! A luta continua! and it’s all good.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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