The Rhetorics of Boring: A Guide by Hilaire Belloc

by Christian Parreno

I am distressed to note that in the interesting department of Boring (the Latin Ars Tædica) no outstanding work has been done upon the active side: the science and practice of Boring.

There has been plenty of writing upon the passive side, describing the horrors of being bored; and plenty of sound invective against the Bore; plenty of good description of his appearance and (what is more difficult) a few good descriptions of his approach and manner. But I can remember nothing at the moment describing the Art of Boredom: informing such of us (and I am one) as desire to inflict it upon our enemies.

[…]

The choice of subject for boring is of no great consequence. Any subject can be made interesting, and therefore any subject can be made boring; but the method is all-important. And the first rule I would give in this matter is to speak in a sing-song, or at any rate with continuous repeated rhythm and accent. Those perfectly practised in the art can talk rapidly without punctuation and with no raising or lowering of the voice; but you rarely ever get this in its perfection except from politicians, though I have known others who were not bad at it. The chief master of the style, to my certain knowledge, never got into the House of Commons at all; he was only a candidate; but I walked miles to listen to him at his meetings for the sheer pleasure of seeing it done.

Another very useful tip is the bringing in of useless detail, and the branching of it out into a luxurious growth of irrelevance, and this works best of all when you are telling a story which is intended to please by its humour. Thus it is a very good plan to open with hesitation over a date: ‘It was in July, 1921 – no, now i come to think of it, it must have been 1920, because -‘ (then tell them why it must have been 1920). ‘No, now I think of it, it must have been 1921′ – (then tell them why it was ’21). Or was it 1922? Anyway, it was July, and the year doesn’t matter; the whole point lies in the month.’

That is a capital beginning, especially the last words, which indicate to the bored one that you have deliberately wasted his time to no purpose.

A parallel method is to worry about a name which you have forgotten, and which is in no way material to your story.

A third tip, and a useful one, is the addition of all manner of local colour and descriptive touches. You must imitate as well as you can (it is not saying much!) the accent of the characters in your story, and you must begin a lot of sentences with ‘It was one of those …’ and then pile on the adjectives.

A further rule is to introduce digressions, especially of an aesthetic or moral sort. Stop in the middle of the thing and add to the agony by explaining that you don’t mind a man’s getting drunk, or that you do mind it, or that you have no objection to such a building as you are describing, or what not: for your private opinions in art and morals are the mst exquisitely boring things in the world and you can’t bring them in too much.

Again, remember that there are special ways of adding to the effect, of bringing out what may be called the high-lights of boredom. Of these by far the finest is suddenly forgetting the end of your story, just as you are reaching it. It has an enormous effect. I knew one case where a man had a bottle thrown at him because he did this, and no handsomer proof of his success could have been given. The sharpest form of it is to lead your piece of boredom up to a question such as: ‘And what do you think he answered?’ and then you pause a minute and say: ‘Damn it all! I ought to remember … I’ve almost got it! … you see, the whole point depends on getting the word exactly right …’ Then, after keeping them all in a little hell for thirty seconds, say, hopelessly, that you despair of getting it, and leave it at that.

The man who desires to shine as a bore, and uses this offensive weapon with brio and success, must also learn hot to break down the defences. Those who have had to suffer high boredom, and who still have energy left in them, can put up a good fight; it is the duty of all bore-students to be ready for such opposition. Thus there is the defence of suddenly interrupting the borer and talking against him in a new and lively tone. For instance, if he begins: ‘Do you know Rio? Well, once when I was in Rio …’ the victim may suddenly disclose a nest of machine guns, shouting, ‘Rio! Bless you, yes! I know Rio!’ then pouring out a spate of Rian recollections and thus mastering the enemy fire by a hose-play of words. There are only two ways of countering this. One is to complain openly that you are interrupted and insist on being allowed to go on with the torture. The other is to let the other man exhaust his ammunition and then riposte yourself with renewed energy.

Belloc, Hilaire (1931) ‘A Guide to Boring’ in A Conversation with a Cat. Leipzig: Bernard Tauchnitz.

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