THIS is a story. It is about a slightly odd, but pleasant man, Zuberon Berkeley. A man who likes to talk.
It is also a puzzle. Zuberon does something that no one else in the world does. Can you work out what the linguistics professor couldn’t? Can you see what it is?
“Ah, Dr Adamson, you have come to see our star guest,” the psychiatrist said, welcoming a contemporary from an establishment that was far enough away to make the journey a matter of no little effort and therefore no little importance.
Dr Adamson shook hands and thanked his host again for the opportunity to study such an extraordinary specimen.
The psychiatrists quickly fell to discussing the man who was the subject of the visit. Dr Adamson said: “I was surprised by some aspects of the paper you published Dr Archant. Your patient sounds fascinating. But tell me, how did you find him?”
“He recently lost his job and was asked to come to me by his GP,” Dr Archant answered. “I did not, at first, realise what was wrong with him.
“I say ‘wrong’ but that’s not quite accurate. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Zuberon Berkeley.
“He has a mind that sets him apart from other men and a very slight delusion that everyone should conduct themselves as he does.
“He’d like to, in a small way, change the way things are, create a New World Order, if you will, with himself as the alpha male. Though, of course, he’d never put it that way himself. He isn’t a patient, in the strictest sense. He’s here voluntarily because he knows I like to study him.
“I must warn you though, before you see him, do not refer to his condition directly. He’d merely clam up and not talk at all. Your journey would be wasted.
“He’s quite sensitive. Don’t, for instance, try to make him repeat things after you. In fact, don’t try to force him into anything. Your visit will be much more rewarding if you experience him as he is. In full flow, as it were. He will happily talk to you, he enjoys conversation.
“As I outlined in my paper, I invited several eminent members of our profession to interview Mr Berkeley without telling them why he is unique.
“I was quite amazed that so many didn’t realise what it is he does although, as you know, he reveals his condition every time he speaks. They had to review what was said before they understood. That’s how good he is.
“But of course you’ve read my paper, it’s Zuberon you have come to see. Come, I shall take you to him.”
To his surprise, now the moment had come Dr Adamson experienced a slight chill of what might be described as fear. A novelty for a psychiatrist who,
in his professional life, often interviewed violent men.
He felt, almost against his will, that he was about to be introduced to a being of mysterious power. Some sort of Hannibal Lecter, the character from that ridiculous Hollywood movie. A man to be wary of.
Dr Archant took him to Interview Room B, popped his head in to see if Zuberon was ready, then ushered in Dr Adamson.
Zuberon Berkeley didn’t look like a monster.
Indeed, he looked the very opposite of how an alpha male might be expected to look.
He was small with a clipped barbered beard and almost bald on top, what little hair he had was also neatly cut.
He was wearing a striped shirt, dark jacket and a white-spotted purple, but still quite sober, bow tie. His shoes had a newly-polished gleam. He was, in fact, fastidiously turned out.
He looked alert and welcoming, if a little reserved, as he rose to shake Dr Adamson’s hand.
With a slight smile Zuberon said: “Good morning to you doctor. I surmise you will be here to quiz me. I bid you welcome. Indeed, I’d concede I enjoy these encounters. They prove mostly to be very civilised.”
Dr Adamson found himself feeling a little like he was the one to be quizzed, indeed challenged, but returned the polite greeting and settled himself in the seat opposite.
Dr Archant said he would return after the allotted hour, the limit Zuberon would grant to visiting psychiatrists.
Before leaving, he checked with the patient who wasn’t a patient. “An hour Zuberon, that’s what you promised isn’t it?”
“Yes, you should return in sixty minutes doctor,” Zuberon graciously agreed. His voice was high-pitched for a man and he spoke at a measured pace, the precise enunciation making each word sound like it had been surgically scalpeled from his mouth.
“Mr Berkeley,” Dr Adamson began: “May I call you Zuberon? Forgive me if I say your first name is somewhat exotic. Indeed, one of the things I was wondering about while preparing for this interview is your name. To be frank, you don’t look like a ‘Zuberon’.”
Zuberon replied: “No doctor, it’s not the one bestowed upon me by my mother. I took it, indeed I invented it, in nineteen seventy one.”
“And do you miss your original name?”
“No doctor, not in the slightest. I’ve been Zuberon for so long, I’m well over the uniqueness of being the only one in the entire country, which I believe is true.
“I might even suggest I hold quite the degree of pride in being the sole Zuberon in the British Isles.”
“What was your original name?”
Zuberon smiled. “I couldn’t tell you, doctor.”
Dr Adamson smiled in return. He hadn’t expected Zuberon to answer.
The doctor tried a different angle: “From what I have learned of you, I’m impressed with your intelligence.” He consulted his notes. “You’ve scored extremely highly in every IQ test you’ve ever faced.”
Zuberon gave a small but still polite laugh. “Do you bestow such effusive compliments upon everyone you meet doctor? Or is it just me?”
Dr Adamson, although he had been entirely sincere, realised Zuberon found the statement patronising. He said, “I apologise, it was just a question that had occurred to me, I meant no offence.”
“There is no offence doctor,” said Zuberon. “I’ve become used to the level of curiosity you show. I often ponder the thinking of you doctors. I try to work out why you select some questions but not others.
“Sometimes I think I see why, other times I find myself struggling to follow the thought processes. But you must of course deliver your inquiries good sir, I promise I will consider them with diligence. I will supply responses whenever it is possible.”
Dr Adamson settled himself, unsure whether Zuberon was irked. He asked: “Do you mind telling me a little about your background?”
“Without problem,” said Zuberon. “I would very much like to do so. I live in London, born in nineteen fifty nine. I worked until quite recently in the HQ of one of the country’s biggest betting shop firms.
“However, my life choices forced me to end my employment there.
“I must be honest, this did not come from me, indeed the firm took the decision irrespective of my feelings. They insisted I retire. Following my former employers’ suggestion, however, I consulted my GP on my . . . my ‘problem’ (Zuberon said it in such a way that it was obvious he didn’t think it at all a problem).
“Since then I’ve been exclusively spending my time helping some of these fine doctors explore my mindset. It’s been, how might I put it, interesting to live in this type of institution, interesting to hold such discourses. I exist in quite some comfort here.”
“I see,” said Dr Adamson. “Tell me though, given your foible, don’t you have to constantly plan in advance what you are going to say?”
Zuberon smiled. “Foible?” he said, archly. “No, not in the slightest. I’ve been doing this for so long I’m wholly used to the method of speech I employ. I do so for purposes I deem to be of some import. Indeed, I see my mission in terms of its possible huge use to English users of the entire world. It would cost nothing to try, I hope you see. I wish more people would give my system the seriousness it deserves. I wish more would follow my method.”
Dr Adamson was a plain speaker as men of his profession often have to be. He asked, simply: “Why?”
Zuberon seemed keen to get his point across, he leaned forward and engaged his psychiatrist visitor in direct eye contact. “I feel, indeed, I think I might prove, English – I refer to the mother tongue, not the country or the people – is too big. It is overstuffed with words. Unwieldy. Not every word is used well, doctor.
“If they’re not used properly, do we need them? I’ve spent time identifying words our society doesn’t need. I would suggest there is little point in schools filling the minds of children with un-needed words. I hope you will see this first point doctor, though I’m not quite yet giving the inner essence of my thought process.
“I will continue once you consider this first point.”
“I understand you,” Dr Adamson said. “But then you display a wide vocabulary yourself. You are an educated and well-read man, Zuberon.”
“Indeed,” said Zuberon. “I do not struggle to converse. But, to get to the root point, let me tell you of my most pertinent deduction. This is the essence, doctor, the crux”. He paused and began for the first time to make short chopping gestures simultaneously with both hands, to accompany his points.
“I’m disciplined, it is true. I exercise tight control over every word I utter. I believe if more people truly thought deeply before choosing the words they use then fewer misconceptions would occur. Fewer insults would be thrown.
“I’m no fool, doctor, I know you consider me odd. But I know this, indeed I vehemently reinforce the point, if everyone else took time to think on their speech before uttering their words, then it would benefit everyone, both sexes, indeed every species of life round this little globe of ours.”
Zuberon looked quizzically at the doctor as if unwilling to continue until he was sure his point was across. He continued, “Do you concur, doctor? Surely you must.
“My position is very simple: we should think first, before putting even one word into our mouths.”
Dr Adamson found himself nodding in agreement. Zuberon’s reasoning, made with such intensity, unequivocally made sense, no matter how extreme his method.
In fact, Dr Adamson found himself rather admiring Zuberon.
Mankind may well, as he said, be better served if everyone considered every word, weighed every syllable, before saying it.
As if pleased with his reading of Dr Adamson’s reflection on what had been said, Zuberon asked with a smile: “Might I deduce you to be converted to my method, good doctor?
“My choice of words – which I know you keep foremost in your thoughts while you converse with me – forces me to think deeply before I utter even one of them.
“Oh I’m not sure I’m a total convert quite yet,” the psychiatrist said, jovially.
“I freely admit I don’t think I could do as you do. But what you say has a logic and sense that is quite attractive, quite persuasive. Placing your strictures upon everyone would force us to pause and think before speaking and hasty words would be avoided.”
Zuberon Berkeley smiled and relaxed his posture a little – perhaps no longer seeing Dr Adamson as a potential enemy.
Zuberon admitted: “Yes doctor. Then I confirm, to further explore one point you brought up, I concede I’ve suffered in my life times or events when even I must stop to think before letting words out of my mouth. I do not concede this point lightly, I must tell you. It doesn’t often serve me well to point out the chinks in my defences. You look for me to slip up, doctor, but I will not.
I never do.”
Doctor Adamson was surprised that Zuberon had admitted to a weakness in his method. This ran slightly against the conclusions of the scientific paper that had so famously been produced on him.
He wondered, if perhaps he probed a little deeper into the man’s psyche, whether he might uncover more of the forces that drove him.
Or, better still, Zuberon’s fears.
He said: “Do you mind if I ask more specific questions about your life and your method of communication, Zuberon?”
Zuberon, unfailingly polite, said: “Of course. I’m willing to field every one of your questions doctor. I’ve spoken with quite the cross-section of your kind, sir, with mind doctors – if you don’t mind the terminology. If we discuss my predilection in serious terms then I’m keen to converse with you.”
“It’s those ‘serious terms’ I’d like to talk about Zuberon,” Dr Adamson said: “Has this ‘predilection’ as you call it, caused problems for you?”
Zuberon’s expression darkened. It was clear he had endured some unpleasantness in the past. He spoke quietly.
“You see before you, sir, the most polite of people. Every minute of every hour, politeness is the cornerstone of how I live. In my former working life I would be polite, in my home life possibly even more polite. I hugely dislike rudeness.
“I do not hide my method of speech. But when some types of people know of my predilection they will be tiresome. I’d be thrown stupid requests – one common one would be to urge me to sing lines from ridiculous songs. Or they would insist on juvenile ploys, trying to trick me into loose speech.
“I swiftly become tired of such insistent impoliteness, doctor. I do not converse with such people. I myself refuse to be cruel, I never utter improprieties in return.
“If people do not wish to converse while I use my methods then I will not force them to. I merely try to show the possibilities.”
He fell silent.
Dr Adamson said: “Do you mean you lead by example, Zuberon?”
“I try to doctor, I try.”
“Have you ever married?” the psychiatrist asked softly.
“Your sentence construction is imperfect, doctor,” chided Zuberon.
But he paused a long moment before answering the question.
“No, I never wed. But don’t think I don’t like women. Most often they will be the more polite gender, more likely to think before using words. I loved once, it is true. Lovely, gentle girl, she wrote poetry. But I never spoke the words she wrote.
“When you won’t refer to women using the terms they expect, the terms everyone else in this world uses, then love will wither. It will not endure.
“She left, I did not pursue, I did not write. She went to live where I could not follow. I couldn’t find the words to keep her. I do not drive motor vehicles. I didn’t possess the terminology to get to her.”
As their time was swiftly coming to a close, Dr Adamson thought if he was to gather data that might add to the study of this man he should perhaps push the boundaries of the conversation.
He said: “With your permission, Zuberon, might we try a few short questions on the material world? I’ve been told you are highly adept at answering in your own way.”
“More compliments doctor? I could grow to quite like this,” smiled Zuberon. “Try your questions. I will reply if it is possible to find replies.”
“Thank you Zuberon,” said Dr Adamson and quickly fired a question to see if he could catch the patient unawares: “Where does the Government sit?”
Zuberon answered smoothly and quickly: “The House of Commons, doctor.”
“Of course,” said Dr Adamson and tried again with a rapid-fire question. “What’s your favourite sport?”
“Footie, like most men,” came the equally quick reply. “Though I don’t go, I follow on TV.”
“What team do you support?”
“Spurs. Come on the Hotspurs!”
“Where does the Queen live?”
“In the centre of London. Where she belongs.”
“What is the name of her residence?”
“Buck House, of course. Your questions verge on the juvenile, if you don’t mind the criticism.” Zuberon was smiling indulgently.
“What’s one hundred times ten?”
“How simple, doctor”, laughed Zuberon, clearly enjoying himself.
“I count very well. Numbers hold no difficulties for me. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. You see? You forget I spent my entire working life in the betting industry. I found it simple to cope with numbers. I enjoyed my work. I didn’t choose to give it up.”
Just then Dr Archant opened the door and enquired if the two were finished their discourse as the sixty minutes had come and gone.
Zuberon replied: “Why yes, doctor. I enjoyed my discussion with your fellow here. He would be welcome to return in the future. I believe we possibly even found common ground, which
is not often done but very welcome.”
Dr Adamson and Zuberon said their goodbyes and the two psychiatrists returned to the downstairs office.
“So, what did you think of him,” said Dr Archant.
Dr Adamson took on a thoughtful expression. “He is, indeed, a fascinating study. His speech flows almost, but not quite, seamlessly despite the stricture. I am amazed he has done that for more than 40 years and yet copes so well with the problems he must face.
“He is a remarkable man, even if there is probably a touch of Asperger’s in there somewhere. I must add that he is also rather odd, perhaps even a little to be pitied.
“But, almost despite myself, I quite appreciated the logic behind why he does what he does. As he’s fond of saying, it certainly must make him think extremely carefully about every single word he says.”
“I’d agree with all of that,” said Dr Archant.
“But while you’re here I’ll let you into a secret. There’s one thing I didn’t tell you beforehand and that I certainly didn’t publish in my paper.”
Dr Adamson was intrigued.
Dr Archant continued: “I asked a professor of linguistics from Western to come and have a chat with Mr Berkeley. But, somewhat mischievously, did not tell him what Zuberon’s stricture is.
“I would ask you not to repeat this as my linguistics expert is rather renowned in his field. But he didn’t actually recognise what it is that Zuberon does.
“He pointed out the assiduous, almost excessive politeness, which anyone can see, and that Zuberon’s pronunciation was also overly precise. But then could only make a few observations about his syntax and generative grammar.
“It was a short conversation they had, I don’t think Zuberon took to him. But the professor didn’t identify the most basic thing about the way Zuberon communicates.
“Even when I pointed it out, he didn’t believe me until he had reviewed the tapes of the conversation. I promised not to publish any of this because he was acutely embarrassed.”
Dr Adamson laughed: “Yes, I can see why he’d ask you to refrain from publishing that. I have a degree of sympathy with your linguistics don. Poor chap.
“It makes me wonder, though, if I hadn’t read your paper and didn’t know what it is that Zuberon does, whether I would have puzzled it out?
“Indeed, whether anyone could, after just a short conversation, identify precisely what it is he does?
“Of course, once you know, it’s obvious in every word he utters.”
The doctors laughed together, shook hands and parted, agreeing that perhaps, after all, they and the entire English-speaking world could learn something from Zuberon Berkeley, a man who would never call himself an alpha male.
So what does Zuberon do? He reveals it in every word he says. For the answer, scroll down..
Zuberon (his original name was Auberon) doesn’t use words which contain the letter ‘a’. He believes this makes him think carefully about every word he uses and that everyone should think carefully about the words they use.
Read more from Steve Finan in his A Word on the Words column in the Sunday Post.