Emmie (angearia) wrote,

Never Underestimate the Linguistic Power of the Zeppo

My roomie started rewatching Buffy Season 2 and got me into doing it too.  I'm currently on "Some Assembly Required" and one line made me pause and come here to post so I can relate my rewatch to writing somehow.  Because my brain is all about writing and characterization lately.  Anyways - the line:

Willow:  Eric's was a bust.  Nothing there.
Xander:  Yeah, nothing but a bunch of computer equipment and a pornography collection so prodigious it even scared me.

- Some Assembly Required

The word that popped out at me was "prodigious".  That's a big word to be coming from Xander, right?  Granted, this is just one ep and maybe it does feel a little bit off, but it got me to thinking about character voice and specifically deird1 's most recent post about the word confide.  At the time, I agreed that it didn't sound like a Xander-word.  Now I'm thinking that it most certainly could be a Xander-word because it's not only what word the character says that's important to establishing an accurate voice, but how they say it.

Besides "prodigious", Xander also uses words like "ultimatum" (Into the Woods), "spontaneity" (What's My Line), "spatial relations" (The Zeppo), "diabolical yet lucrative" (Lessons) and "cogent" (Him).  The guy who says he's "powerfully, painfully in love" to Anya (Into the Woods).  The guy who when faced with a psychotic zombie and a ticking bomb says "I like the quiet" which is damned poetic in its simplicity.  Sure, the writers dumb Xander down for a laugh - anyone else think Xander really doesn't know how to spell B-I-T-C-H?  But just as Buffy masks her intelligence and people underestimate her, she's often dumbed down for comedy too.  It's just that Xander gets dumbed down even more as the go-to comedy-guy til Andrew arrives on the scene.  But to highlight a moment when Xander is smarter than Buffy (in both vocabulary and world history knowledge):

Xander: You up for a little reconnaissance?
Buffy: You mean where we all sculpt and paint and stuff?
Xander: No, that was the renaissance.
Buffy: Oh.  I've had a really long week.  Let's go look at the house.
- The Freshman

Most of the time, Xander speaks simply and from the heart with the added zest of self-deprecating humor and geek references.  Sure, he doesn't use big words as often as Giles and Willow, but that's not to say he wouldn't use them ever.  Getting back to what prompted this stream of thoughts, I can actually see Xander using the word "confide".  First, because it's not that intellecualized of a word.  Second, why not?

The Wrong Way

Xander:  Why won't you confide in me?  I happen to be an excellent listener and I could probably help you out if you'd give me a chance.

The Right(-ish) Way

Xander:  You don't wanna confide in moi?  [holds hand over heart dramatically]  I'm hurt, Buff.  You're missing out on some quality attentive listening and the promise of a sympathy tear.  Okay, maybe a sympathy glistening of the eyes.  [waves hand in front of face]  But don't ask for more. [points emphatically] I've gotta set a manly example. 

This is all a roundabout way to say that I don't think that words are necessarily off-limits for characters.  It's not just what words a character says, but how they say them.  Syntax and tone in the Buffyverse are just as important as word choice.  You can get Xander to say a highly intellectual word, but it has to be in the proper verbal setting.  And let's not forget that the vocabulary of a character is broader and more diverse than it may appear.  Xander is mostly plain spoken, but he also hangs around people like Willow and Giles.  I'm sure his brain has soaked up a lot of very long and intellectual words from their company and yes, can use them rather well. 

I'd just hate to think that we as fandom writers would be guilty of underestimating Xander's intelligence just as the Scoobies underestimated his abilities in The Zeppo.

Xander is like seven-layer dip.  He's deep and has many flavors.  And some of them are quite intelligent and insightful.  I don't think words should be off-limits for Xander when they're fairly common or even uncommon - the most important thing to remember for his character is "heart" and "humor".  The overall portrait of his voice is more important than the tiny pieces that make up his voice.  Xander is the "heart" and "humor" of Buffyverse verbal playfulness.

Tags: writing

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.