The popular and joyful word, “applause,” appears to have its roots in the Latin word, “applausus” which translates to, “the beating of wings.” In modern European and Western societies, a great deal more is expressed and intended by the word applause than the inexpressive and instinctive activity described as the beating of wings. It connotes a genuine and spontaneous reaction, sometimes in the nature of a sudden outburst, in response to an event, or in appreciation of an enjoyable experience. The positive sound of people clapping their hands repeatedly in a joint expression of enjoyment, approval and gratitude, is a tribute eagerly sought after by every performer, as it is a vital assurance of successful performance.

What person does not respond with happy emotion at the sight of his little child squealing and clapping in delight at the presentation of a new little puppy? Which dedicated hard -working research scientist, after years of investigative frustration, will not respond with great pleasure and gratitude, at the congratulatory applause of his colleagues on his hard-earned scientific breakthrough? The joyful and congratulatory applause, of friends and family, at weddings, and Anniversaries, birthdays and graduations are all expressions of connection, approval and love.

To our experience, applause is intrinsically, a true and spontaneously expressed response to an appreciated event; it is uniformly positive, but has on occasion, admittedly, been used to express sardonic relief at the awaited termination of a boring lecture or stage performance.

Recent television videos from North Korea call into question our basic understanding and conception of the noun, “applause.” We are shown images of thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of puppet-like, obedient North Korean people, many in uniformed groups, carrying huge banners and standing strictly at rigid attention, uniformly “clapping” at the presence, on the dais, of their “dear and glorious” leader. Such rapid hand clapping is strictly uniform, snappy obedient and interminable; it is impossible to discern any emotion or expression on the face of any of the hand clappers, engaged in a joint symbolic demonstration of their complete lack of desire for individual nuance, and the universal worship of their powerful and homicidal ruler.

One is able to discern, in these robot-like expressions of happy subjection, the nightmarish and despotic atmosphere in which the “glorious and beloved” leader whose reported executions (even of members of his immediate family), torture and imprisonment, is meted out by that sociopathic leader at his whim. In this setting, the public clapping (we will not elevate the word by referring to it as “applause.”) theatrically appears happy and enthusiastic. It is shocking to the observer to view such a disgraceful and de-humanizing farce and the failure of the human spirit. The sight of thousands of human souls fearfully enacting this mock symbol of their loyalty and gleeful subjection, by the robotic act of clapping, would be better suited to the Sci-Fi channel.  The Latin word for applause, “the beating of wings” becomes appropriate.  -p.


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Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

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