“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” — Oscar Wilde
In a few words, Oscar Wilde succinctly clinches the belief that has driven my entire life, from reading non-fiction books about primates in the fourth grade to getting straight A’s in high school. I was completely dedicated to college, and getting that golden education that everyone told us was the answer to our childhood.
I believe in that. That a proper education was the answer to, well, everything. Or so it seemed to be.
Before I further that subject, lets first take a closer look at the quote. Wilde, that infamously fabulous satirist, loops education in with the way present ourselves to the public.
It occurs to me that Wilde has two separate meanings in what he is trying to say:
1. (My initial reaction to the quote:) Wilde is speaking in earnest, and truly believes that the more time you spend in a proper education setting, the more pertinent things you learn. He also thinks highly of being well dressed when presenting oneself to the environment.
But wait a minute. Knowing Oscar Wilde, this gooey, happy, rainbows-and-sunshine outlook on life doesn’t seem to fit in with his deeply satirical nature. A second possible meaning:
2. Wilde is speaking within the bounds of his favorite companion: sarcasm. He looks down on those who would overdress so as to appear to be better than others, and purposefully loops overdressing in with those who overeducate themselves and think, therefore, that they are better than those who are not educated.
I do not know Wilde’s mind, but like a really good quote should, his words have inadvertently provided a deeper look into my own mindset. Since I graduated college in 2010, I’ve been confronting monthly bills and a lack of direction in my career (except the well-paid job of writing, of course!). I went from a full belief into college (as mentioned) to struggling with the economic usefulness an analytical education…does not (yet) provide.
What does this have to do with writing?
Look closely. Oscar’s quote is seven words.
Out of those seven words, and across the span more than a hundred years, I (the reader) was able to find very personal meaning and depth in what he had to say. Succinct wordplay in your writing can create the ambiguous nature that will make your reader want to think, as opposed to clearly spelling out exactly what you mean. As I am doing.
Which meaning (if either) do you accept as Wilde’s probable intention?
- Passionate People like Jane Austen: Day 7 of Project 365 (valeriesuydam.wordpress.com)
- Letter: Oscar Wilde’s Grave (nytimes.com)
- New Years Eve & Mark Twain: Day -1 of Project 365 in Quotes (valeriesuydam.wordpress.com)
- Oscar Wilde’s adored tomb sealed from loving kisses (smh.com.au)
- Staring into “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (sarahalicewaterhouse.wordpress.com)