I’m a little too old, I think, to know how to really waste time on the Internet. I do it, of course, but I don’t think I do it properly: I tend to stay in my rut, visiting the same couple of sites every time, answering the same set of questions. Has there been a world crisis? Is there a vintage oatmeal wrap coat on eBay? Has some foolish tourist made the mistake of asking where to eat in Little Italy on that Manhattan foodie restaurant board? After that, I just sort of sit there, staring blankly.
So, like many old people, I am susceptible to the carnivalesque lures of online blandishments—clickbait, I mean. Why yes, I do want to know what Jane Austen character I am! I had no idea these former child stars were married? I’ll be the judge of that, sir! And when a link to some quiz site, styled of course in Comic Sans, asked if they could guess my age by my vocabulary, well, I thought I’d take them up on it.
I knew they’d think I was old, of course. But I must say, that even by the standards of robot interrogation, this quiz made very little sense. How they could deduce anything from questions like “What GRE word describes you?” or “Which antonym for sad do you use?” (Options: happy, elated, blithe, jubilant, ecstatic.) In a sense, it was a good test, in that you weren’t sure what they were looking for: it wasn’t like a quiz in a teen magazine, where one answer clearly marked you out as a goody-goody, another as a sociopath, and a third as the well-balanced ideal. This one forced a certain honesty.
And, clearly, they were doing something right, because this was their verdict:
You Are 68
You’ve studied many languages, providing you with plenty of ways to express yourself. You are storyteller and people love to listen to you. Your voice is full of wisdom and your vocabulary is old-fashioned and immaculate.
Well, that’s true, I thought, give or take thirty-five years. I am a storyteller.
Just to experiment, I decided to take the quiz again, this time choosing what seemed to me the most ludicrous answers. I said my favorite “swear word” was cunt—before I’d been forced to choose damnit (sic)—and that my favorite term for sex was bone. Drunk became swacked—a word I have never heard—and my preferred synonym for wise was suddenly sagely.
I had never felt more alive. Who was I impersonating? Somewhere in the world, did this brain really exist? What were the right answers—and what did it all mean? It was like being under the power of arbitrary ancient deities! When an adverb served as an adjective, did anything matter in the world, really?
Here is what they said. The emphasis is mine.
You Are 45
You are mature and the words you use reflect that. You have a polished voice and a refined vocabulary. You are established and educated. When you speak, people listen. Essentially, you are a language master. You enunciate, you have perfect grammar, and you rarely curse.
I still choose to believe that I am, indeed, an Elizabeth Bennet.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.