Thursday, 25 April 2013

Belabour



Speech, The Labour Party, Politics, England, UK, Lecture, Boring, Dull
Ed Miliband, who manages to BELABOUR on so many levels
(I'm really quite proud of that joke)

BELABOUR

Verb trans. Also belabor. Late Middle English.
[from BE- + LABOUR verb]

1. archaic. Cultivate, till. Only in LME
2. Buffet, thrash, assail. LME
3. archaic. Labour at, ply. Only in 17
4. Labour (a point etc.); treat at excessive length, overuse. E20

One of my pet hates in speaking (or writing) is when someone, even when they have a good point to make, belabours the point they are trying to communicate. While the two definitions currently in use can be interlinked, I am primarily referring to Definition (4), that is: to labour (a point etc.); treat at excessive length, overuse. To do so, to belabour in such fashion, is potentially self-defeating, vain, boring and condescending to the audience - always at least one of those things, potentially all four. Therefore take note: DO NOT BELABOUR. I don't think I can put it any more succinctly than that.

Just to really make sure you understand, though, it's worth noting that sometimes a speaker (or writer) dilutes the validity and persuasiveness of their point by belabouring it. This can be especially irksome when you really believe in what they are saying (or writing), but you know that by belabouring it they are losing the audience and, far worse, the opportunity to get their point across. This is one of the key reasons why you must not belabour in your speech (or writing).

Speech, Belabour, Labouring the point, Boring, Dull, Tiresome,
Someone making a speech (and doing a jolly fine job for all I know)
It's possible, even, that the audience has been won over relatively quickly, maybe within the first couple of hours of a lecture (or first 100 pages of a treatise). This could be due to the inherently convincing nature of the speaker's position or the authority and skill of the speaker himself. However, perhaps buoyed by this initial gain, some speakers then continue to lecture an already convinced audience, perhaps making the same point using different language, illustrations and arguments. It's at this point where I just want to grab hold of the speaker and shake him: "Just shut up, man! You've done it! We agree! There's no need to belabour the point!"

Belabouring to a convinced audience is a bad idea. In fact, it can result in that convinced audience turning against the speaker (or worse still, turning against a good and valid argument or position) through sheer frustration and boredom. Also, by association, the audience can start to connect a disliked (or boring, or pretentious, or vain, etc) speaker with that very cause or argument, therefore projecting these negative reactions from the speaker (or writer) onto that position. This, perhaps over all of the others, is a prime reason why one must not belabour.

Boring, Dull, Tiresome, Belabour, Nodding off, Sleeping, Napping
Some bored people (probably because they're listening to someone belabour)

It should also be noted that belabouring shows a deep lack of respect for the audience and is actually most insulting to their collective intelligence. A person that belabours is in effect saying: "Look, as you're obviously not smart enough to get this quickly, I will have to go over it again and again, to drag it out, just to make absolutely sure that you've understood the profound points that I'm making." Doing so runs the very real risk of alienating the audience (even a genuinely stupid one). Therefore, do not belabour if you want to convince your audience.

It should be noted that this is very different to battology, the needless repetition of words and phrases. Battology will often result from an artless or poor level of speaking ability (or from a viewpoint so shallow that there is no choice but to repeat the same tired arguments again and again). Rather different from a battalogizer, a belabourer instead just keeps driving at the same point or subject, needlessly and tiresomely. He may approach the same subject from different angles, using different arguments and illustrations, with different anecdotes or statistics. All of these are superfluous, however, and it would better serve his audience (who may not have the ability to fully grasp what he has to say anyway) by not belabouring but rather by showing brevity and clarity.


Vanity, too, is a problem for the belabouring speaker. They have a tendency to like the sound of their own voices, and erroneously assume that everyone else likes the sound of their voice too. Of course, it's quite possible that everyone does like the sound of their voice. But, as my Mother used to say repeatedly:

'A VOICE THAT BELABOURS IS A VOICE THAT NAUGHT SAVOURS.'

To illustrate this and to be sure you understand what Mother was getting at: I love the voice of the American singer-songwriter Tori Amos - it's utterly exquisite. Were I to listen to her sing the same song repeatedly however (perhaps Cornflake Girl), over and over, again and again, it's possible that her voice would eventually start to grate. You can substitute Tori Amos for any singer whose voice you have a liking for, and the illustration will hold - eventually that singer will begin to grate. Therefore, do not let your own vanity or reliance on an inherently pleasing voice lure you into the trap of belabouring (to help you grasp this point, I have included a video of the song Cornflake Girl).

In short, if you take nothing else away from today, remember this: DO NOT BELABOUR IN SPEAKING (OR WRITING). I really don't think I can put it more precisely than that. It's far better to have a point to make, to make it with brevity and clarity, and then to stop. If you don't do that, but rather keep making the same point again and again (even if you really believe in what you are saying, and you make the same point in different ways), you run the risk of belabouring that point and losing your audience. And for what? Your own vanity? Your own disdain for the intellectual robustness of your audience? It's just not worth it. Make your point, and stop. Do not belabour. I really hope that at least some of what I've said has managed to get through to you.


Have you ever had to listen to someone endless belabour a point? Maybe a teacher or spouse or boss perhaps. Do you have a tendency to belabour? Do you have any suggestions on how we can tackle the problem of belabouring? Please feel more than welcome, encouraged even, to leave you clear, succinct and brief comments below. 

5 comments:

  1. Uhm... I didn't read half of the things you wrote above. :$

    I admit, I have a tendency to belabour. Last week my professor told me: "listen Bibi, I'm sure you have an interesting point to make, but you repeat yourself, and I don't really know what's important and what's not in your thesis. So: shorter = better." Also, my blogposts are too long. Look, I'm even belabouring in your comment section!

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    1. Bibi! How can you discount my meticulously constructed prose in one fell swipe of the reply button?? How can you possibly even know what my post was about?? Hmph.

      And, FYI, not once have I ever read a Bibi post where I thought: "Hmm. This is dragging on a bit." : o )

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    2. But, but... But... But it just kept dragging on! What does Tori Amos have to do with bored people listening to a boring belabourer? "Listen Ed, I'm sure you have an interesting point to make, but you repeat yourself, and I don't really know what's important and what's not in your blogpost. So: shorter = better."

      (You know your post illustrated the word well when I start babbling)

      It used to be worse, with my dragging on. I now have a rule: if the text is longer than the Blogger Compose Post field, then it's too long. Same with my comments. Barely going to make it this time! Yes!

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  2. Speaking as someone who spends longer crossing out words than writing them...er...I'll shut up.

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    Replies
    1. That's a good sign though, isn't it? Much worse if you had written stuff that should have been crossed out but left it in place.

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