I’m actually being serious here, or at least, marginally serious: Let’s talk words, shall we? This simple statement is actually a little layered: let’s talk in literal terms, using words instead of metaphors. Or, let’s talk, using our words, instead of in a textual format or replacing thoughts and concepts with entire images or simplified emojis. Or perhaps even let’s talk about the words we use, why we use them, what we hope it is to convey with these words.
But isn’t that kind of the fascinating aspect of language in and of itself? How delightfully varied intonation, intention, and concepts can be even though the words are so similar, if not entirely the same. As a writer, this sort of thing should be the puzzle box I spend hours poking and prodding at, finding new and exciting ways to string these abstract concepts and otherwise meaningless sounds and images together to form bright, new and terrifying ideas that our world has never seen before.
It’s the sort of thing people can spend an entire lifetime studying, thinking about, and playing with, only to end off their time on the mortal coil claiming they are no more an expert on the subject that the day they first started. For language changes, evolves, bends to the wills of the owners of those words. Each mouth is a particularly and peculiarly shaped tool in which to craft these new sensations that others cannot begin to fathom, let alone relay in words of their own. Word smiths, authors, artists, copyrights, patents, images; all these ways to create new thoughts and ideas that not only shape a conversation, but a person as well.
It’s horrifying, frankly; part of the reason why I hate language so much. It’s just a little too abstract; too much room for error. A misplaced inflection on the wrong word can utterly shatter the connected stream of what you intended and what was received. A derailed train, a catastrophic failure. Or some such similar metaphor that might intrigue the senses.
In many senses, it’s that precarious balance of intention that leads to so many break-downs in our own modern dialect. As mentioned, words change with the peoples, perhaps even mid-conversation, and it takes a truly savvy mind to pick up on those minor alterations nearly every occasion. Never mind the changes of intention of word between generations: look back some few decades and read some outdated literature and you can really grasp how things have changed.
I was listening to an unabridged Moby Dick audiobook, and the language seemed so poetic, so enthralling to me. I was enraptured by what I was hearing (also due to, in no small part, the calibre of the performer), but I know full well there are many who would not be able to take interest in such a writing style. This isn’t a shame upon them, rather a difference in dialect. Other people think and speak very differently than I do; where I tend to rely on a more outdated and somewhat “high England” based language structure (not a real thing, but the image is already in your mind), much of the younger generation relies on a more concise, information dense language to convey ideas.
Which is, in and of itself, much more beneficial than the way I convey language. My method is derived, I’m not going to lie, mostly to pad out the length of my thoughts and make my language reflect a persona I wish to portray in my written works. I like people to think I’m more educated or more intelligent than I typically am: the back pocket of the pants I’m presently wearing is literally ripping off and has been for several months now. Not nearly as high-brow, right?
This leads to additional issues. We present fake personalities to people we don’t know. To change who we are, we alter not only our physical characteristics, but our verbal and somatic ones as well. Think on the differences briefly of how you talk when meeting someone you highly respect and want to impress, as opposed to someone you’ve spent years around. The words change, the tone changes. In the few cases where I see someone who genuinely does not act any differently, it’s due to them having mastered the fine art of not caring what other people think of them.
And we all know what people whisper behind their backs: “He’s such a jerk,” or “She’s so conceited,” or “Who do they think they are?”
We speak differently, if only to portray ourselves in a desired light. When we speak differently, agitation can rise. This thought was very recently driven home to me when I read an article about the recent Black Panther movie. The article itself was very well written and, in many aspects, I largely agreed with the underlying message. So why, then, was something irritating me about the way it was written? Something that got my blood pressure to rise ever so little; not enough to induce a rage but just enough to make me realize that I was being bothered.
Toxic Masculinity. This is, literally, the phrase that was bothering me: nothing else. The message behind it was something I agree with, but the specific phrase, “Toxic Masculinity” bothered me to no end. More-over, it was the degree of repetition that agitated me, for reasons I still don’t fully understand myself (and I’m certain any number or reasons will either be provided or thrown at me, reader preference). Those two words are deliberately charged to incite an emotion, a particular idea, a very specific response from different demographics. To some, its two words of validation, to others: vindication. For some, it’s a cry for change, and for others it’s a war call to rally against.
Two words can incite heated and, occasionally, violent discussion or discourse. And I’m only talking about the words themselves: not the ideology behind them or what those words represent. The power of words to instill anger, grief, joy, ecstasy, whatever. Words as magic, words are magic. In a sick sort of way, a wild magic that has been gifted to each and every person in a cornucopia of different languages and incompatibilities; a magic that ebbs and flows with age and understanding, and even lack-thereof.
What, then, do we do to control such magic? Do we control it? Should we control it? I’ve seen arguments on all sides for all different ideologies: some who say conversation and discourse should be held in a mild, composed manner. Others who claim that speaking from pure emotion is the only way to have meaningful conversation. Still others who claim that speaking any words is a sure way to weaken the resolve of one’s position. We go to school to learn how to master language, we hone the craft on the streets, and we evaluate our own dialogue in our own minds.
For myself, my mastery of language (if it can even be called that) did not come from a classroom. It came from hours and hours of putting thoughts onto paper, trying to find better, more interesting ways of saying what I thought. Better: a weak way itself of phrasing that sentiment. In that case there, I chose better, but despite having put it down and continuing to write, I even now itch to go back and change the word. In my mind, the magic that the word “better” instills does not produce the desired result. In some cases, and for many, “better” would have been the perfect word to use. Beyond perfect, even.
With all this variation, with all these disagreements: how are we to have conversation? Can we even have conversation? Is it possible.
Optimists would say yes, cynics would say no, linguists would say verisimile.
At least, I assume that’s Latin; I used Google Translate because I don’t speak in dead languages; I barely speak the present one I frequently bastardize for my own selfish ends.
As you might have guessed, I have no answers on the subject at hand. After all, who am I to claim I know better than anyone else? My command of language is, honestly, no better than that of an English scholar, or that of a Russian store clerk, or that of a Hindi farmer. It’s kind of the terrifying point, really: we speak all these wildly different dialects with a vast array of different ideas behind them, and for wholly different reasons. So what, then, is the point of words?
Why do we even talk words?
To share. Perhaps the only thing all forms of language has in common: to share. Ideas, news, experiences. Language is a tool to unite minds to a cohesive experience; perhaps not a perfect tool, but one none the less. Language has evolved over millennia, centuries and even minutes: look back at this own article for proof. Three times I changed the way I wrote, twice bearing similarities but different inflection even. To share an experience I was having before I sat down to this empty word doc: a random little thought that trundled through my mind as I was pondering what to write and how.
I shared a portion of my own mind to you, reader. And in turn, you’ve now made it a part of your own. These words will now go on to shape who you become, in some small way, perhaps even an insignificant one; but you will be changed by it all the same. It’s not just the power of my words, either: everyone has this innate power and magic at our disposal. This odd little miracle of sharing parts of our minds with other isolated, but intimately connected, organisms.
So, let’s talk words, shall we?