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Courses and Symposia

A Durban secretary explains her boss’s regular mid-week absences from the office with the justification: “He’s away on a course.”

Callers are impressed with his devotion to further education and are always wary of challenging his assertions .all these courses must make him a man of vastly superior knowledge and an intellect not to be trifled with.

What they fail to realize is that the course is invariably of the 18-hole variety. Strictly speaking, no one is lying and our man’s status is better enhanced than by the admission that he spends so much time on the golf course.

With the festive season looming large, Prose & Cons readers can now benefit from a free Christmas offer in a similar vein.

When you need an excuse to attend yet another boozy lunch or cocktail party, tell the boss you have been invited to a symposium. Or if you are the boss, appease your staff, clients, and family with the same story.

They will be suitably moved by your professional commitment at a time when everyone else is making whoopee. A symposium is serious stuff full of boring lectures on equally tedious topics.

Not the kind of thing to be chosen in favour of a three hour Christmas lunch.

Consider the OED:

Symposium: 2, a meeting or conference for discussion of some subject; hence a collection of opinions delivered or a series of articles contributed by a number of persons on some special topic.

Or is it? Put your faith in the fact that most people are familiar only with the OED’s second definition. Few are likely to know the first meaning:

Symposium: 1, A drinking party; a convivial meeting for drinking, conversation, and intellectual entertainment.

In fact if you leave the office for a symposium and not come back for the rest of the day, you can cite a highly respected precedent. Felton’s ancient Greece records: if he (Socrates) went to a symposium, he was likely to stay all night.

Perhaps that’s why Xanthippe (Mrs Socrates) was inclined to get a bit stroppy on occasion, but she had the benefit of being familiar with the nature of the original Greek version.

So if you arrive home this week and tell the madam that you’re tired and emotional after an exhaustion all-day symposium, she’s likely to respond with “poor dear, you work too hard”, and come running with a therapeutic double whisky.

But if you quote the Socrates example and end up with cup of hemlock in your ears, don’t phone Wordsworth to complain. He’ll be away on course again.

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