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Instant trivia

Instant trivia
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First Published: Tue, Jul 26 2011. 11 16 PM IST

Making short work of it: Instant generators
Making short work of it: Instant generators
Updated: Tue, Jul 26 2011. 11 16 PM IST
Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of the mind. What starts out as vision soon becomes corrupted into a dialectic of lust, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the possibility of a new beginning.”
Do you understand what that means? No? Good, neither do I. So let me fiddle a bit with the second line and see if it works better: “What starts out as triumph soon becomes corrupted into a hegemony of power, leaving only a sense of decadence and the inevitability of a new reality.”
Making short work of it: Instant generators
Still no? All right, let me tweak it a bit: “What starts out as hope soon becomes corroded into a dialectic of greed, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the possibility of a new synthesis.”
These are not my words. They are from a website called Arty Bollocks Generator (ABG, 10k.aneventapart.com/Uploads/262 ) that creates a pretentious, packed-with-jargon artist’s statement at the click of a button.
I was recently part of a panel to interview some fresh-out-of-college students for a specialized course. Before these students qualified for the interview, they had to sit for an exam and also submit a page from their imagined autobiography. The majority of candidates wrote nice statements about their childhood and dreams, honest and straight from the heart, but there were a few—two or three, maybe—who we thought had used words—or lines—that appeared completely out of sync with the general tone of their writing.
I suspect they had picked up ideas from websites that help you write essays for admission to colleges in the US. A lot of these sites offer serious advice for a fee and give interesting examples, but there are some that are there purely for 10 minutes of useless fun. Like the instant essay generator ( www.longessays.com ), where you submit a topic and they generate an essay for you. But don’t waste your time visiting it—it truly is quite stupid.
There’s a proliferation of “instant generators” on the Internet where you fill in a few details and out comes a draft. I have seen an instant love letter generator (“What human being would not appreciate those radiant blue pools which you call eyes?”), and also an instant “Dear John” letter generator ( www.chickenhead. com/stuff/dearjohn/index.asp ) which doesn’t mince words (“Don’t let it get you all upset inside; I always liked your friend more.”). I’ve even seen a Ransom Note Generator ( ransom.sytes.org ) where you can create—or rather which creates for you—old-fashioned ransom notes with letters clipped from newspapers and magazines.
But ABG takes the cake. It is a website for artists, to enable them to write funding applications, proposals for exhibitions and curriculum vitae. You press a button and it generates an utterly confusing and meaningless statement which you have to be truly gullible to take seriously (“As spatial forms become transformed through emergent and personal practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the edges of our era”). If you don’t like it, press a button and generate another one: “My work explores the relationship between the body and life as performance.” To quote the Australian news daily The Age, “In the crazy hall of mirrors that is contemporary art, the ABG is probably an art project.”
These “instant generators” have one thing in common: You go there for a few minutes of fun and some really dense prose. Of the lot that I stumbled upon, the exception is the website of the popular American magazine Mental Floss, “where knowledge junkies get their fix”. Its Amazing Fact Generator is a storehouse of intelligent and interesting information. For example, 10 Latin phrases you pretend to understand (example, caveat emptorand sui generis), or the last 10 words of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Let me give you two and see if you know their meaning: Cymotrichous (which means having wavy hair) and Hoorosh (meaning confusion). I didn’t even know these words existed.
My favourite trivia from Mental Floss is “15 wonderful words with no English equivalent”: Zhaghzhagh, a Persian word that means “chattering of teeth from the cold or from rage”, and Bakku-shan, a Japanese word meaning “the experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front”.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to Shekhar at the smartlife@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Jul 26 2011. 11 16 PM IST
More Topics: Websites | Essays | Students | Admissions | Dear John |