What is Clever?

I was reading Marc’s latest post in which he talks about the fact that people now describe him as being clever.  Clever is one of those subjective concepts that’s difficult to pin down.  What does it actually mean?

My niece thinks that clever people are the ones she can’t understand.  The people who talk strangely and use fancy words.  (And there is no doubt that Marc is going to meet all her expectations here.)  I, on the other hand,  don’t consider people I can’t understand to be clever.  Many of them are just poor communicators.

Marc mentions his formative years and how no-one described him as clever then.   Schools don’t seem to be a great judge of cleverness.  My little sister is above average in every subject.  Is she called clever by her teachers?  Not at all.  I think it they could sum up “pain in the ass” in one word that’s how she would be described.  And actually she has been called “stupid” on multiple occasions by teachers.  She is many things – stubborn, irritating, at times silly – but not stupid.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines clever as, “mentally quick and resourceful”.   This isn’t exactly how I think of clever.  I would use words like “bright” or “sharp” to describe mentally quick people.  In some ways I think of clever as quite a dull word and not a particularly interesting way to describe anyone.  Probably the fault of “Mr. Clever” which, when I was a child,  was the dullest Mr. Men book ever.  Who wants to be clever when you can be “Mr. Happy”, “Mr. Topsy-Turvy” or “Mr. Tickle”?

I also have bad memories of being called “clever-clogs” which, was always said in a scornful tone of voice.  Actually I can’t easily remember any time when being called clever as a child was a positive thing.  Teachers used words like “hard-working” and “conscientious” when they wanted to give compliments.  My peers said things like “oh you’re so clever, little miss know-it-all, teacher’s pet”.  Usually closely followed by some comment about me being a witch.  (Actually I think my peers still do this from time to time just without the teacher’s pet bit.)

Even though being clever is something that some people ridicule I like clever people.  I saw Stephen Fry on T.V. whilst I was in the U.K.  I listened to him talk for a bit and then turned to Marty and said, “if anything ever happens to you I need to find a man like that”.  Marty was a bit puzzled.  He looked at Stephen Fry and wondered why I wanted a very tall, older man.  But I wasn’t talking about his appearance, I was talking about his mind.

As for Marc, I would like to think that people could come up with interesting and ingenious ways to describe him rather than stating the obvious and describing him as clever!

One Response to “What is Clever?”

  1. Stray Taoist Says:

    Insightful post, glad to be of inspiration 🙂

    As ever, you are probably right. (Resists….saying…clever clogs…) I guess it comes down to the way you interpret words. Whether I have thought about it (more than slightly) or not, I don’t think I ever associated the word _clever_ with negativity. But I can see your argument.

    But you *are* a witch! 🙂