Advice To Boasters

One advantage of marriage is that it makes obnoxious boasting more acceptable. Consider French kitemaker André Cassagnes, who among other things invented the Etch-a-Sketch toy. Since he could not afford to patent it, someone else got his name on the patent and the credit. According to his obituary in The Economist, André never seemed to care particularly, but his wife was intensely frustrated. One wonders whether, or rather how often, she used to say, “My husband invented Etch-a-Sketch, you know”. The point is this: can we see André, even if he had cared, going round saying, “I invented Etch-a-Sketch, you know”? No, we cannot see that; he would surely be shunned. Whether she actually did or not, however, can we imagine his wife going round saying that on his behalf? Of course we can. Any English middle-class woman worth her salt would say precisely that; although perhaps the French are different.

There is no particular reason why the thing could not be done the other way around: “My wife invented the cappuccino, you know”. In any case, the marital division of labour allows the couple to score double: one does the hype and the other scores points for humility. What is more, it both allows and encourages the partner who has no accomplishments at all to preen, owing to the metaphysical participation in the virtues of the other. What better deal for the praise-hungry nonentity can possibly be imagined?

And of course this principle applies equally well to offspring. ‘My son, the doctor’ and all that. The moral of the story is that if you belong to a culture that does not commend shameless boasting, acquire another human being who has done something worth boasting about, and do your boasting vicariously.

Posted on January 14, 2010 at 09:57 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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