Gravitas… What the heck is Gravitas?

30 03 2008

Gravitas One entry found.

Main Entry: grav·i·tas

Pronunciation: \ˈgra-və-ˌtäs, –ˌtas\

Function: noun

Etymology: Latin

Date: 1869

: high seriousness (as in a person’s bearing or in the treatment of a subject)

From the on-line dictionary


Gravitas… It’s a term that gets bandied around a lot nowadays, so I thought I’d might need to define it for some folks out there.


The world has filled now with politispeak…. Words meant to convey an added sense of seriousness or relevance to what the speaker, usually a politician or one of their surrogates, has to say on a particular subject. Mostly used to speaking in terms of circles or just puffing out so much hot air, a politician’s currency is in getting out the “message” to their constituents. But there usually is more method in their doing so than just keeping us informed. There is ALWAYS the agenda of a coming election, or an upcoming vote, or some project to line up support for. And that more than often means getting up in front of an audience and making the case for something or other.  To accomplish that, they must give the maximum amount of weight to their words.


It started as a descriptive term for what they felt there message was: highly serious. Sure it could be bullfrogs or nuclear submarines, what they had to say on the subject was of grave national concern, and we’d best pay attention. They were, after all, doing OUR work, and reflecting our view was most important now weren’t they. Sure they were. There was a good bit of gravitas in what they had to say.


The term seemed impressively important… and by inference it made their words important too. Hang a moniker like that on anything and it must add some value. Even if it was mostly a mind game…, but like most mind games, others pick them up and play with them, too. They discovered that they could use the term and make what they say seem all the more relevant by association. It wasn’t, after all, what they often said, but how they said it.


It isn’t anything new, hanging big bold words onto what it is we have to say. I’m sure we all know of many terms used over the years for just such occasions. Gravitas is no different… Hegemony comes to mind.


Convoluted words or phrases, often redundant dualities, juxtaposed together, and meant to work upon our psyche to confuse knowledge with truth. A truth that is more bureaucratic gobbledygook than constructive instruction about issues at hand. And it seems that from time immemorial politicians have spoke over our heads in order to say a lot while telling us nothing.


As John Loe points out in his article “On Good Writing” October 23, 2006, much is said to tell us more about a subject than it really might be, or grandiose flowery terms are used to make something something when in fact it is nothing that isn’t something that we are already know that is what it only is, such as “thermal therapy unit” (an ice bag) or a “disposable mucus recovery unit”, [is]also known as a box of Kleenex.”. And  “ground-mounted confirmatory route markers.”  are only in reality  “road signs.”


Also in that article he quotes Martha Nussbaum telling us that kind of ‘prose’: “bullies the reader into granting that, since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on.”


He goes on to relate Joyce Kilmer’s non-poem which says – “Poems are made by fools like me/But only God can make a tree.” But Loe points out that today that poem might well read “Versified and rhythmic non-prose verbal arrangements are fashioned by people of alternative intelligence such as myself, but only the divine entity, should he or she actually exist, can create a solar-shielding park structure from low-rise indigenous vegetative material.”


But every day is a new day, and it’s silly season again. Just as everything old becomes new again, we’ll soon see some other word or words come into popularity. It’s all just meant to make us feel that they might know what it is they’re talking about, that’s all. Even if often they don’t have a clue.










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