Competition - Win vouchers to spend at any Tesco store

Competition No 3686 Set by George Cowley on 18 June

A listener gave Today this definition of an intellectual: "Someone who, alone in a room with a tea cosy, doesn't try it on." We asked for insightful and lengthier definitions of an intellectual.

Report by Ms de Meaner

Yes. Yeeess. I see, I really do. I must say I warmed to George Cowley ("An intellectual with only 32p left till next giro day will, on the way to the newsagent's, pass a second-hand bookshop and find a copy of Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea irresistible at 25p"); Adrian Fry ("He speaks several European languages, often in the same sentence"); J Seery ("An intellectual looks upon football songs and mobile phones as interesting social phenomena"). I worried a little over Anne Du Croz's "He has never heard of the Mile High Club". Surely, he has already written a learned treatise on same. £20 to the winners. The Tesco vouchers go to: David Silverman.

An intellectual is someone who, one-nil down, reduced to ten men and with two minutes to go plus any stoppage time allowed, speculates on what would constitute the best of all possible free-kicks. Would it be one which makes the most efficient use of the optimum force applied to the ball (kinetic perfection); one in which the spin applied causes the ball to travel in the most beautiful arc, reminiscent of the brushstrokes of Fra Angelico, Raphael or Botticelli (aesthetic perfection); one whose elliptical path around the wall replicates precisely the orbit of the earth (Keplerian); any free-kick (Leibnizian); any free-kick against Germany (St Augustine's Just Free-Kick Theory); any free-kick that results in a goal (Utilitarian); or any free-kick that results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number (Benthamist Utilitarian - ie, any free-kick resulting in a goal scored against Manchester United)?

David Silverman

An intellectual knows exactly how things work, but is unable to work them. Seeing a child struggling in icy water, he or she will call for paper and write to the Times about the dangers of thin ice. He does not use his computer, which has ceased to work, owing to the power not being switched on. He has telephoned twice for an electrician, in vain. This is because the local electrician is bored with being called out whenever a bulb needs changing, and having to listen to a recitation of Milton's "When I consider how my light is spent . . ." into the bargain.

But remember, an intellectual cares desperately. He (or, I repeat, she) spends his life caring mostly about himself, but also about all who suffer and are at a sufficient distance not to be his responsibility. He is the embodiment of the maxim that it is better to be helpfully wrong than unhelpfully right.

Peter Lyon

Are you intellectually healthy? Adore the postmodernism of Derrida? Have a Shakespearean quip for every occasion? Admire the polymath mind of George Steiner? This INTY-Q test will show you where you might be falling down and need to do some remedial work. Mark T for true, F for false. Note: This is not an IQ test and will not qualify you for Mensa.

1. Occam's razor cannot be purchased in your local Boots.

2. Schopenhauer has never played left-back for Bayern Munich.

3. I would queue all night to see some Vermeers.

4. I worry regularly that I've not read enough 19th-century Russian novelists.

5. I've taped, but not watched, Simon Schama's TV series.

6. Every year I hurry out to buy all the novels on the Booker Prize shortlist.

7. My last Wagner opera was bought less than six months ago.

8. I am comfortable saying the words, "Do you know that in Waiting for Godot nothing happens twice?"

9. I have never read a tabloid newspaper in my life.

10. On family holidays, I slip away to visit museums and old castles.

*8-10 Ts: You are an intellectual

John O'Byrne

Towards a prescriptive definition of an intellectual: a decalogue

1. Thou shalt have a bad haircut (Splennik, 1957).

2. If persuaded to play Trivial Pursuit, thou shalt answer the pink and orange questions incorrectly even if thou knowest the answers.

3. Thou shalt not take Foucault's name in vain.

4. Thou shalt watch no television, except Bugs Bunny.

5. Thou shalt offer on request a plausible, if impenetrable, definition of post-modernism.

6. Matching socks are mere vanity.

7. Thou shalt be familiar with at least 30 Kochel numbers.

8. Honour thy Chomsky and thy Wittgenstein I.

9. Thou shalt not plagiarise, but thou mayst produce instances of intertextuality.

10. Alone in a room with a tea cosy, thou mayst try it on (listener 2001 notwithstanding), but then thou shalt leave the room still wearing it.

Andrew Wilcox & Paralia Angelochoriou

No 3689 Set by Gavin Ross

A-level students expecting questions on Hamlet were confronted with questions on King Lear. Can we have specimen questions and plausible answers where the students have been placed in a similar situation with these plays or other well-known works of literature.

Max 200 words, in by19 July.


This article first appeared in the 09 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Just you wait until I grow up