The year is 1886. The place? Johns Hopkins University. Sunset, 6 PM. A hush falls over a rowdy crowd as hometown Prof. Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve defends his controversial statements on grammar’s role in symbol comprehension (in The Spiritual Rights of Minute Research) from an earlier barbed dismissal by visiting Prof. Lucian Müller. What results sent shockwaves throughout the fledgling world of semiotics. And now, here is Prof. Gildersleeve’s entire statement, reproduced faithfully, as recorded by the debate’s stenographer:
Hermes and Hermeneutics: Ancient Greek, Grammar and the Mind
A Scholarly Freestyle in Defense of de Saussure’s Semiotics
by Prof. Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve
Oh no, oh no, oh no here it comes, bitch;
Rip out ya voice box, tear off ya gitch.
Doctor B-L-G wants a B-L-T.
Ain’t gonna slip up,
gonna whip up a rhyme-knuckle sandwich.
See, moffuckin [sic] symbols ‘n shit, that’s all there fuckin is, man.
And grammar? Bitch, don’t get me moffuckin started!
Grammar is like the tight-ass thong on a tight-ass ass
that lets you know how fit that symbol snatch gon’ be.
If you ain’t knowin, then the pussy ain’t showin,
And some smoke outcha ass is what you been blowin.
[end of interlude]
You say my summary of Christian Greek is cursory?
I ain’t give a piss, got a huge coin purse on me.
You say I oversimplify, man I don’t give a fuck,
I drop more bills than a leprous duck.
And if ya old lady be all cold and ill,
‘s ‘cause she’s all up in the B-L-G’s grill.
An if you start feelin’ all sad ‘n bitchy,
‘s ‘cause you just got bitch slapped – veni, vidi, vici.
Whether or not this was the intended conclusion of the retort has been a matter of some lively discussion since the fateful evening. Further debate was rendered impossible by the eruption of gunfire – real and simulated – from the audience, and all Prof. Gildersleeve could communicate were his trademark, tenure-earning crotch-grabbing motions. But while it was Gildersleeve’s retort that was drowned out at the debate, it was Müller’s theories that were drowned out in the long run, as the rise of the neuroanatomical model and structuralism would see Gildersleeve’s crotch-grabs entirely academically justified in the following decades.
Join us next time for our newest installment: The Big Three and Yalta’s Famed Fart-Off.