As I say ad nauseam, words hold great fascination for me. Like a good wine or succulent steak, they should roll in the mouth teasing us out of lethargy and into fantasy. I’ve built entire paragraphs around a single tantalizing word I’ve discovered. I mean, come on, how can a person not get goosebumps upon hearing words like pandiculation, sententious; contumelious or jejune (thank you, Frasier). Since I am a word geek, but an amateur, I must speak without perspicuity (see, isn’t it fun?!) about a number of linguistic ailments troubling me of late.
The first is the unforgiving forward march of colloquialism for its own sake. The fullness and potential of our language is forced to pose as a mere undercurrent while our worst, or at least, carelessly casual renditions of it suffers from a “never cry wolf” scenario. It calls out, taunting us with its beauty and yummy goodness only to tease us upon reaching it with the text-speak it has become. Our etymologies, left underused, are trumped by the language of our street level encounters with one another. The onerous ubiquity of pop-speak, text-splutter all too easily bullies us with a kind of syntactical imperialism, usually from whoever holds the what’s-cool-now cards. Those of us self-appointed word cops run to the rescue of a drowning language only to discover that we had acted preemptively and the malady escapes. Like pushing a parachute underwater, it simply pops up elsewhere. When it happens again and again, we grow weary of the chase and join ‘em since we can’t beat ‘em.
Truth be told, this is how all language evolves. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing or we might still be in the throes of “straightway”, “contrariwise”, “forsooth”, “forthwith” and a host of other culturally high-nosed non-necessities. Lest I begin to sound too much like the aforementioned language-Luddites, I’m the first to admit my own occasional lapses into Facebook-ese if for no other reason than to escape the notice of those who might otherwise call me out on it.
Secondly, something I’ve said a jillion times – that abuse of overstatement otherwise known as hyperbole. Saying a word or phrase a jillion times does not, in itself, lend any greater credence to the word or phrase in question. Insistent hyperbole has left our language flat, uninteresting, boring and impotent, unable to even arouse us from our phonic slumber. I confess that my own struggle with the issue can easily be compared to the epic battles faced by Moses at the foot of Mt. Sinai or Lawrence of Arabia (this is exaggeration, not hyperbole…honest). The loss of subtlety, clarity and nuance delivers a word-life that is monochromatic, thin, even morose as a consequence.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, (my posts are generally far too long) is our love for the more-is-better preference. Our love for more-chat-is-better, not in length, depth and style, but in frequent, drably trite verbal diarrhea (think Twitter) has left us yearning for silence, the spaces between the words where we regain our footsteps. It’s often the punctuation and not the words it contextualizes that can steady our gait, allowing us to reenter conversation and community with class, poise and aplomb. The constant barrage of words, ideas and images (kinda like this post) all but guarantee that we are robbed of silence, the very silence that could enliven our spirits and enrich our conversation, leading to community.
So, there you have it. These are my ongoing struggles both for and agin’ the forward march of language evolution. As you can plainly see, I’ve been the victim more than once of a sound playground pummeling. After all, who wants their words of simple communication continuously berated as sub-standard? Especially by some smug, self-appointed word doctor? Be that as it may, I stand by my diagnoses and humbly await the next unwelcome conflagration unwittingly brought upon myself whereby the shape and color of my face are akin to the same in our less than ideal lexical enrollment.
In case we do not speak again, farewell, and think thee not ill of me…