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Friday 18 June 2021

The pleasure of the senses Infected with the crossword puzzle

Infected with the crossword puzzle

Author of the content

Perhaps it does not entirely hurt to think of light - or even playful - interludes in a particularly sad period such as the one we are going through, certainly full of serious considerations; but any inconvenience to say can be mitigated by the always cited Huizinga, who warns that playing is also serious and there is nothing more serious than it.

As for "The pleasure of the senses", the title of these digressions, it should be noted that these are not erotic sensations, naked bodies, but only meanings, covered or uncovered that they are, of actual meanings or of wide allusions of which word play is capable. Expressed more clearly, we want to refer to epidemic forms of the word, to verbal contamination phenomena.


Years ago, in Germany, in a month of December, a very dangerous fever broke out, of which the virus was known but not the remedy, causing difficulties for the whole country: there was talk of mad scientists, of professors who were no longer diligent, of students who did not take the exams, of listless pupils, of children neglected by their parents, of couples in crisis. Questions of all kinds, largely made up of crossword puzzles, began to sow panic as soon as the publisher of a dictionary began to stake large sums of money for the solvers of the games offered. A kind of treasure hunt, a hunt for the Sphinx, from which the German Oedipus on duty hardly found a way out.

The effects were also felt in offices and industries, where an incredible number of working hours went up in smoke. Associations of "damaged by the crossword puzzle" were born with the motto: «Continue to live even after the crossword puzzle. But how?". There was nothing more to hope that the modern "strangling" Sphinx (the etymology says so), guardian of the new plague, would find the right Oedipus.

In Italy the effects of such games have never been so serious; apart from the undeniable occasion of "distraction" for uncommitted employees, the crossword solvers have never been looked at with worried attention.

Guido Almansi was concerned about it, but his was a "cultural" concern (excessive and provocative) and concerned the alleged, immense damage caused to the language by the crossword; he happened to declare it in the preface to the Italian translation of the Cantatrix Sopranica, a delusional "scientific communication" by Georges Perec (in Cantatrix sopranica L. et autres écrits scientifiques, Seuil, Paris, 1991) full of incredible and exhilarating linguistic acrobatics. Almansi was an admirer of Perec, considered him the greatest promoter of the linguistic expansion of those last decades; but on that occasion he kept on specifying that his two volumes of Crossword: "The idea that the greatest promoter of linguistic expansion of modern times, Georges Perec, has participated in a reactionary work such as crosswords - wrote Almansi - disturbs me, makes me lose the cultural coordinates in which I try to frame his multifaceted talent […]. Crosswords promote it status quo linguistic and cultural; from this kind of reading one can only learn what is already known [...] ».

Indeed, it cannot be argued that certain publications make culture, but it is rash to hold them responsible for serious linguistic failures; they may also be credited with the merit "of having contributed to the diffusion of the Italian language, from the Alps to Sicily", as Mauro Giancaspro happened to say in an article that appeared some time ago in a newspaper. Giancaspro, then Director of the National Library of Naples, referred more generally to "The Enigmatic Week", a very valuable publication that in its many decades of life had hardly changed in anything, always remaining extraneous to all external events, except for subsequently make them the subject of definitions for his crossword puzzles.

Among many merits, however, the magazine must be forgiven for the confusion generated in the meaning of the term 'enigmistic': the title used almost ninety years ago (it was 1932) generated a big misunderstanding and the quality of the publication, then, and the its very high diffusion, have contributed even more to consolidating it. For Italians, the "enigmistic-crossword" correspondence is completely univocal and the riddle no longer refers to its true and original meaning, that of ambiguous speech, of something that needs an interpretation, a text with a hidden meaning. . The adjective 'enigmistic', used then improperly, began to confuse the unsuspecting public, who began to attribute a distorted meaning to it, far from the traditional one referred to the art of puzzles, to the art of double speaking, which sinks its origins in the tradition of each country. The American invention of the crossword puzzle thus appropriated the term 'enigmistic', without justification and without anything the scattered ranks of fans of the true enigma could; someone (a Neapolitan enigmist, the lawyer Beniamino Foschini, Prince of the Forum) reacted as he could ..., coining the anagram:

CROSSED WORDS? = SKY, FOR CHARITY, NO!






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