Ipso Facto, Propter Ergo Sum

Well that’s a stupid title. It’s basically gibberish in Latin. I recognise some of it, but it’s just a jumble of bits of stuff. Ipso facto is “By the very fact”, and I’m sure I only know the phrase from a kids TV programme from the 1990s. Propter is all about causality: Post hoc ergo propter hoc is the example that springs to mind (“After it, therefore because of it”). Ergo sum is just the “…therefore I am.” bit from “I think therefore I am” (Cogito ergo sum). So, what on earth am I wittering on about now?

I could just as easily have got my QED on (quod erat demonstrandum, meaning “Hey, look! I done the thingy!”, or at least it did the last time I wrote a proof), as that has much the same set of lights firing up inside my brain as the twaddle this page is topped with. Latin is spangly, and we trust it.

Except for when we don’t, and it’s a barrier, and we’re afraid of being found out for the frauds we all genuinely are, when Latin is simply the language of elitism and protected knowledge. And breathe.

How do you tart up the smell of the bullshit falling from your lips? You cannot use literal scents to hide that crap. You need a metaphorical air freshener, and tried and trusted tropes fill that gap.

I have previously discussed how we use the word “obviously” to force an issue to go our way. It’s the same with “naturally”, “clearly” and “just”. They are a set of words which put our spin on to the conversational agenda, in an attempt to get our own way. I refer to it as “manipulation”.

What if, instead of trying to force someone to do something we want to – change plans, believe the gas lighting they’re doing, buy a fucking big television – what if we’re trying to paper over the cracks in the crap we’re talking? How do you wave a figurative magic wand over a literal conversation?

Go with Latin: “You crank the thingummybobbins on the hootenanny, and – Ipso Facto – you have a shiny JimJim”. That’s a crude, laboured and intentionally – if not actually – humorous example, but an example it is. You have no idea what the gosh-darned-heck you are talking about, so – Look! A bunny rabbit! And the crack is skipped over, with hopefully no one noticing that it was ever there.

It’s better than a downright lie, but only in so much that no one is lying to anyone about anything for a moment and, in 2019, that is a turn up for the books. Oh how we love politicians and Brexit.

I dislike assumptions; I dislike them very fucking much. If you say something to me which I don’t immediately understand, I will not just make some thing up to fill in the gap of my understanding. Although the human brain does precisely that when we’re only just struggling to hear or see a thing.

That’s happened a lot to me lately; I believe it’s a product of decay. I am listening to someone speaking and, for whatever reason – say they’ve turned their head while speaking, bent over to pick up some laundry or someone has screamed loudly – I have missed a bit of what they are saying. My mind doesn’t want to accept this, so just makes it sound plausible enough for me to accept it.

It is not that I have not actually heard what they have said; in that case I would ask them to kindly repeat themselves. It’s not that I’ve misheard them; in that case I would ruminate on the oddity, and ask them to kindly repeat themselves. It’s that I have not sufficiently heard what they have said; in that case my brain waves its metaphorical hands about a bit and hopes I don’t notice. It’s the aural equivalent of an optical illusion. When a key part of what I haven’t properly heard comes up, my brain is caught out as a liar.

Advertisers like to cover up their acres of manure with scientific, or possibly pseudoscientific hocus pocus. It’s not why we buy the super serum they are hawking, but it does cover up the believability gap in the notion that shampoo can repair hair. Your body does that, not some protein rich soup.

And on some level this is reassuring: we’re glad that they have gone to the trouble of designing a few words which seem to back up their claims of reliable product performance; doubly so that they have gone to the trouble of dressing a few pretty people in white coats to look a bit like scientists.

In reality, a lot of us buy the shampoo, toothpaste or other such scented hygiene goop based on its price: basically, whether it is on special offer in the supermarket that week. If we like it sufficiently we may continue to buy it. We may not: if there is a better special offer the next time we need goop, we will likely buy that instead. Supermarkets know this; it is how they stay in business so profitably.

The fact of the matter is, someone out there is trying to convince us, with clever sounding words, that something untrue is true. And that, folks, is why I listen to The Unbelievable Truth on Radio 4.

Does it have to be like that? I’m not suggesting that we return to the world of the 1950s where adverts were just factual depictions of the products as they existed. I like the fact that ready meals (and kebab shops) have pictures on them showing what the food definitely won’t look like. A degree of artifice makes the world look more pleasant. It just doesn’t really inform my purchasing decisions.

As an aside, a lot of TV commercials in Iceland are just a picture of a thing you might want to buy, with a name and a phone number on it. I don’t know if its effective, and I found it relatively creepy.

If it’s in Latin it must be right. If it has some sciencey words it must be right. The people who are allowed to use Latin and science words know better than I do, and so are in a better position to make important decisions. Only, Boris Johnson knows a lot of Latin and Margaret Thatcher was a chemist. It has to be acceptable to question the assumptions we find ourselves making again.

Sweet dreams are made in the minds of advertisers, looking to liberate the general populous of their hard earned. If we get wise to one set of things they’ll just find other ways to swindle us all again.

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