A number of years ago, a friend by the name of Richard asked that I join him as his guest at a Holiday Party to which he had been invited.
I generally avoid these as being so much fluff and so little substance. But when he told me that the host and hostess were gourmet chefs of the first order he sucked me in. (I do love wonderfully prepared food – even if I have to make it myself).
The fact that the guest list was to include a lot of interesting and eclectic folk put the final nail in the coffin. I accepted his invitation.
Richard was an interesting chap. He looked a lot like Kris Kringle – but with a mischievous streak. He thought it would be amusing (‘Tis the season) to have a little fun with the other guests. Here was his plan.
We would coin a new word. It took us about an hour but we agreed on the word “ferdiculant”. I know that it isn’t a word since spell check has twice annoyed me with it’s irritating red underline to tell me that I had mistyped something as I write this.
We would go to the party and start using this word – but in totally different ways.
Dick would be “ferdiculant-negative”. He would make statements such as, “What a Ferdiculant day. I got home tonight and saw that my mail contained a notice from the IRS that I was being audited for two years. Then I got stuck in the elevator for 20 minutes when the power went out in my building. When I finally got to my apartment I checked my answering machine and found that one of my high school classmates had died in an auto accident. I just don’t remember a more FERDICULANT day!”
I would be “ferdiculant-positive”. From the other end of the gathering I would make statements like, “What a Ferdiculant day. I had been trying to collect a substantial invoice from one of my clients for four months without any success – and this morning, much to my surprise, there was a check for the full amount. As I was getting ready for this wonderful party I played back my messages and found that my favorite cousin had received a huge promotion. Then, as I was walking to my car I found a hundred dollar bill by my tire. This was really a FERDICULANT day!”
The point of this prank was very simple. It was to see how easily influenced people are. And as this exercise proved, we are indeed easy victims of manipulation.
Within an hour of introducing the word “ferdiculant” to their vocabularies, at least half of the guests were using it – but, of course, they were using it in completely antithetical ways. It was a little like the Tower of Babel combined with a heavy smathering of George Orwell’s “double speak”. (By the way, smathering is not a word either– but I think you understand it’s meaning).
This morning I listened to the House Agriculture Committee’s questioning of Jon Corzine. As you may recall, Mr. Corzine was formerly a Senator from New Jersey, the governor of that state and, most lately the Chief Executive at MF Global – a trading firm that has managed to “misplace” an estimated $1.2 Billion of its customers’ funds.
I was impressed at the depth and acuity of the questions which were posed to him. It isn’t often I can make that statement of a Congressional investigation.
I was equally un-impressed with the good Senator’s waffling, evasive and non-responsive answers. If I knew as little as he – I would have a difficult time remembering where I lived.
Well, perhaps he just had a “FERDICULANT” day.