The Language Thing

Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it. — JKRowling

I’m not sure I can verbalize the degree to which I value language.  It’s this supple, magical thing that we use.  Words are as close as we can get to trying on someone else’s skin, someone else’s perspective.  They’re our best defense against isolation and madness.  We use them to heal and to hurt, to connect and disconnect, to share the sublime, and to create horrors of unimaginable proportions.  Language should be respected.  When words no longer mean what we think they mean, when marketing and jargon and double-speak take over, no one can know anything for sure.  You end up at a table with everyone nodding and not one person in genuine agreement with another.

There are aesthetics to language; design principles as outlined in Strunk and White, just as applicable to music (see Francis and the Lights) or architecture.  Let the thing be solid.  Let it be exactly as needed and no more.  Whimsy is allowed, but not at the expense of function.

And where clarity is most needed, where the muscularity of the language should be in greatest demand, we get verbal flab: love and faith.

Euphemisms abound.  Metaphors and similes rule with no solid imagery to back them up.  Wild claims are the norm with not a substantiation in sight.  The words don’t mean what we think they mean.  The simple phrasing won’t do.  You need layers of words, because it isn’t enough to say it once and move on.  That wouldn’t be convincing.  People wouldn’t look at you for very long if you didn’t make a production, if you didn’t emote effusively as you describe the redeeming power in the blood of Christ.

It’s theater of the most offensive variety.  Like the Notebook uses every available shortcut, stoops to any level to get you to cry.   The whole thing is arranged to manipulate you into reacting in the proscribed way.

I can’t figure out how you would overstate the role that faith and love play in the human experience.  Faith – this notion of what beliefs under-gird your every assumption about the world – and love, which determines the quality of your experience in the world (both your ability to give it and your willingness to receive it).  And to have the foundation of who we are subject to schlock just offends me.  It makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

In high school, we’d have biannual “weeks of prayer” wherein our schedule was disrupted for morning worship sessions which inevitably culminated in an alter call.  The guy up front (it was usually a guy) would implore everyone who felt the word of the Lord stirring in their hearts to rise and join their fellow supplicants at the front of the auditorium.  “Rededicate your lives to Christ!”  The whole school was in this auditorium.  Not a large school, but maybe 300 kids total?  A grand total of 1% stayed in their seats.  And I was one of those three.  Whatever there was between me and G-d was not for public consumption.  For the others?  Oh, the weeping, the muttered prayers, the gratitude for this collective catharsis.  This alter call business happened on Friday and by Monday, the chronic bitches were back to being bitches.  The guys who told everyone that they hoped G-d didn’t come back before they lost their virginity were still panting over booty.  The jocks were still arrogant.  And the bad girls were still the most interesting people in the school.

Lightweight words with no meaning can’t change the world.  Ideas that demand attention also demand economy.  If you mean it, if you’ve thought it through, you only have to say it once.

So when it comes to love songs, I’ll take Macy Grey’s “Real Love” over Celine Dion’s anything.  All day every day.

Baby will kiss you, even when you have the flu.

And when it comes to faith, the only statement I’ll trust sounds something like this: I’m still trying to figure it out.

The Language Thing

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