In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

Are You among the Talented?

Good marks and talented students go together. "America's got talent," TV reminds us. And no one loves our nation's talented, more than our schools.

Schools call them "the gifted," as if a divine power had bestowed them with special abilities. Teachers feel "gifted" by their presence — students ready and willing to learn — not like the others.

Talent, however, isn't always for the best. There are times when it is not even used; and other occasions, when it is not used well. We once spoke of "maltalent," "an evil inclination or disposition." It's a word we no longer use, and a concept we'd rather not acknowledge.

That's evident by how little time schools spend discussing the moral underpinnings of students' actions — the many different ways in which their talent can be applied.

In ancient times, a talent was a specific amount of money, such as a talent of gold or silver. The Babylonian silver talent was equal to 3,000 shekels. Matthew 25: 14-30 told how a master entrusted some to each of his servants. "And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to every man according to his ability." The servant who had been given five talents and the one given two both doubled their money in his absence for which they were rewarded. The servant given one talent buried his for which he was reproached.

The moral of the parable was that every man has a duty to improve the natural gifts and ability that God has given him.

As Ben Franklin wrote back in 1750, "Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What's a sun-dial in the shade?" What indeed?

The notion dies hard however. Many fans of the talented particularly adore the precocious. It's a category that not only puts you ahead of all others; but ahead of yourself as well. The word initially described plants that ripened early. It now describes brats, knowledgeable beyond their years.

Their precocity derives from the Latin pre, "before" and coquere, "to cook," referring to a cooked item done before its time.

Closer inspection, however, shows many declared precocious to be more half-baked than rare — a fine but important distinction.