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Book Smarts vs. Street Smarts [part 1 of 2 of (part 2 of 2)]

80. My circle of friends hasn’t really changed since middle school. This alone makes me want to leave New Mexico.

This is Daniel’s long awaited response,

In a recent conversation, Pixel and I argued whether or not “streets-smarts” was anything beyond a made-up term that stupid people used to make fun of the smart. My friend doesn’t think that street-smarts exist, and originally I might have agreed, until my friend “the walking dictionary” decided to start researching the different types of “smarts.”

I’ll play devil’s advocate; this is my defense for the existence of street-smarts. The problem with street-smarts is that it remains nearly impossible to define with any clarity. Furthermore, the examples about the nature of street-smarts create a sliding slope of puzzling interpretations. The difficultly with language and terms is nothing new. The nature of words have always created serious problems for those who study their logical forms. Take the word “chair” for example. The word chair can be easily misunderstood with the simplest of alterations to its form. A chair is something a person can sit on, it often has four legs, and supports the human figure. Yet when does a chair become a seat, bench, stool, place, or settlement? If the legs were removed would it still be a chair? Does a chair need to be made from wood or metal? The truth is that words can become very complex things, but this is nothing we didn’t already know before.

There have been several objections to language and the troubles their terms create, yet language remains one of the most important developments ever made. My friend Pixel doesn’t believe street-smarts exist, I might have agreed before, but I don’t now. Neither does the chair. The importance of words should not be restricted to rigid definitions, because this would make discussions impossible. A chair is nothing more than a word. Like ‘street-smarts,’ what matters is what the connection implies. When I tell my brother that my friend Carlos can’t do anything without the direction of a book, this criticism will never appear in the dictionary, but my implication suggest some element the two of us can relate. The term street-smarts only exists because it contains something people can use to relate the implications, these words offer the means to meaning, and are only instruments of our ability to share.

Thus, unless Pixel is willing to toss out the rest of the dictionary, street smarts must stay.

(Editor’s note: Part One can be found here.)


  1. I’m going to be esoteric today:

    Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
    How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
    How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
    How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by.

    But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
    And speech, to dull the rose’s cruel scent.
    We spell away the overhanging night,
    We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

    There’s a cool web of language winds us in,
    Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
    We grow sea-green at last and coldly die
    In brininess and volubility.

    But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
    Throwing off language and its watery clasp
    Before our death, instead of when death comes,
    Facing the wide glare of the children’s day,
    Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
    We shall go mad no doubt and die that way.

    “The Cool Web”, Robert Graves

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