“Isn’t there something cruel, not to mention fallacious, about judging a person’s intellect by their accent and bearing?” asks The Times‘s Matthew Syed rhetorically.
Perhaps. But judging a hack’s competence on the basis of that one sentence is perfectly legitimate – and the judgement is damning.
Mr Syed lacks both the taste not to follow a singular antecedent with a plural personal pronoun and the basic technique to get around the mythical problem he feels in his wokish bone marrow.
If his fingers go on strike at the very possibility of typing ‘his’, why not write ‘people’s’ instead of ‘person’s’? Or bite the bullet and provide a ready excuse for using the offensive pronoun by replacing ‘person’s’ with ‘man’s’? Especially since the subject of his lament is indeed a man, the footballer Wayne Rooney.
I maintain that no one capable of writing the sentence above can ever say anything worthwhile. However, I’m grateful to Mr Syed for writing – however inanely – on a subject other than coronavirus.
It’s not only the apparel but also the language that oft proclaims the man, and Mr Syed’s grammar is in harmony with his message. He takes issue with those who poke some good-natured fun at Rooney, who has just been given a column at The Sunday Times.
In the good tradition of class warfare, Mr Syed contrasts Wayne’s humble origins with the privilege of “a privately educated rower with a posh voice [who] is instantly hailed as Sir Isaiah Berlin in Lycra.”
“Wayne Rooney speaks in a Scouse accent,” admits Mr Syed. “… His grammar is not always as polished as it could be. These observations are often used to infer that he is – how can I put this? – a thicko.”
If Wayne’s grammar isn’t as polished as even Mr Syed’s, his readers are in for a treat. But it’s not Wayne’s grammar that interests me here, but Mr Syed’s spirited defence of his accomplishments that amply justify Wayne’s journalistic elevation.
First, he takes a swipe at those who equate a regional accent with stupidity. Thereby Mr Syed swings at a target that simply isn’t there.
I’ve never met anybody who judges a person’s intelligence on the basis of his accent alone, in the absence of any other markers. One of the most brilliant men I know, for example, speaks with a Yorkshire accent, and nobody has ever doubted his intelligence because of that.
Every qualified football commentator speaks in some kind of patois, and some of them are worth listening to. Jamie Carragher, for example, has a Scouse accent so thick that even some Englishmen have trouble understanding him. And his co-presenter Gary Neville emphasises the phonetic diversity of England by pitching in with his broad Lancashire vowels.
Yet both men (if you’ll pardon the offensive word) are a joy for football lovers to follow: their comments are thoughtful, lucid, knowledgeable – and undeniably intelligent.
Yet Wayne is different, at least for those who haven’t had Mr Syed’s good fortune of knowing him personally. From the time he made his professional debut at 16, Wayne has presented a particularly feral visage to the world.
At that tender age, he was already given the task of using his good right hand to ‘sort out’ uppity opponents. If Solskjaer, another ManU striker, was known as a ‘baby-faced assassin’, Rooney quickly acquired the reputation of an ‘assassin-faced baby’.
His subsequent career, especially off the pitch, did little to dispel the image. Rooney consorted with hookers his mother’s age, brawled and in general presented an unsavoury image. Nor do I recall him ever making incisive comments about his chosen field, other than “it was a team effort” and “what matters is the three points”.
Though he has conspicuously mellowed with age, to a point where one wouldn’t automatically cross over to the other side of the street on seeing Wayne approach, the evidence of a budding intellect is so far lacking.
So much more amusing it is to follow Mr Syed’s arguments, those designed to counteract the jokes cracked at Wayne’s expense by assorted comedians. Thus, for example, Frankie Boyle: “How the f*** did he manage to get married? Probably because ‘I do’ sounds quite a lot like ‘oooh, oooh’.”
Mr Syed is aghast. Rooney, he writes, excelled at school, even though his attendance record was under 50 per cent. In fact, his teachers issued a ringing accolade: “Works hard and is hardly ever in trouble”. (I like that ‘hardly ever’. Is trouble defined as a custodial sentence?)
What else? Oh yes, Rooney wasn’t just a great technician of the game, but he was also able to absorb “the more strategic demands of tactical alignment.” That’s true – as long as we acknowledge that those strategic demands are rather basic. I’m sure Rooney could get his head around the need to drop between the lines or go for the far post, but such aptitude doesn’t require a three-digit IQ.
Mt Syed then indignantly confronts those who claim that Wayne’s columns will be ghost-written. His argument is a resounding “Yes. So what?” Many others, he says, have been known to use ghost writers.
True. But the fact that Rooney will merely sign, rather than write, his columns doesn’t quite work as proof of his intellect (which isn’t to say he has none).
“Rooney was a fine player and will make for an incisive pundit,” predicts Mr Syed presciently. “The real monkeys, dare I say it, are those without the brains to see it.”
Quite. However, brainless monkeys like us depend on journalists to prove us wrong. If Mr Syed feels he has done that, he’s about as qualified to be a columnist as Wayne is.