When I was young, several different sources, for different purposes, likened the English language to parts of different engineered items. Motorcycles, houses, and the sort. Words were bricks, with phrases and letters being like mortar and combinations thereof. Forgive me, it has been a long time since I heard the original explanations. Thing is, just as a house can only be as strong as the bricks that are used to construct it (and the other bits and pieces used in other stages of the process, let us not forget), your communication is only as strong as its components, too.
As a negative example, let us talk a moment about a James Cameron-sponsored show that ran from 2000 to 2002, Dark Angel. Some will recall that it is the first really major role that Jessica Alba had. But those who like to play “watch this show and find ten things wrong with it” remember it for another reason. Probably the most primary reason is the overuse of slang in the dialogue. As one commentator said so well, it is hard to watch Dark Angel and not get the impression that the screenwriting staff consisted entirely of people who had never had a conversation with another Human being before.
Slang, as a communications tool, evolved in order to simplify communication. It exists primarily as a shorthand or substitute for descriptions where the total number of words would either be unwieldy, or where the proper names are difficult for potential recipients to understand. So among a closed social group, colloquial expressions for certain parts, places, activities, and/or outside groups, will exist. But there is a point, and it is an easy one to reach, where slang ends up getting in the way of communication. Especially when it is figuring into storytelling and communicating a story. Dark Angel does not merely reach that point, but flies past it at a speed that compares favourably to that of sound.
One of the funniest moments in the series occurs the episode titled Art Attack. A delivery mix-up results in one of the characters being kidnapped by what we will refer to as organised crime figures (“gang” does not really fit in spite of the ethnicity of the main speaker). During one demonstration of the leader’s power, an individual who has messed up is brought into the room. The leader asks the character (basically, the lead character’s boss) and one of the secondary heroes if they know what “defenestration” means. When their responses are in the negative, said crime boss has the wrong-doing underling thrown out of a window. With a slight expression of amusement, he turns to the two characters we are meant to be sympathetic to, and he says in a perfectly ghetto voice, “that’s defenestration”.
It says a lot about the quality of a show’s writing and dialogue when a character who is pretty much designed to meet the “gangsta” stereotype has the most well-structured and articulate thing to say in a 45-minute episode, if not the entire series.
Which brings me to why there are words I hate. As we have already covered, words are like bricks. And whilst some people take offense at words because of their meanings, I tend to react more to the sound of words. Mike Patton, he of such august bands as Faith No More and Mr. Bungle, has said a number of times that the words he sings are chosen more for how they sound when sung than their meaning. I am, to a degree, the same way with my writing. So when I tell you that words like “blog” set my teeth on edge because that specific example sounds like a euphemism for shit to my unconscious, I want you to understand my full meaning.
Just to reiterate, defenestration is one of my favourite words. It ranks right up there with pulchritudinous. Pulchritudinous is a lengthy word that dictionary.com states is the equivalent of “physically comely; beautiful”. As words of enormous length go, it is a recent one of my learning. But as I said, one of my favourites. Another that I read when I was a lot younger (in MAD Magazine, ironically) was antidisestablishmentarianism. It means opposition to the withdrawal of state support or recognition from an established church. And another recently-learned word that fits right in is sesquipedalianism. It either means given to using lengthy words, or when used to describe a word, one that contains numerous syllables.
Short, grunt-like words do nothing for me. So if you are going to follow me around making sounds like “true dat”, then such will probably end up being the last thing I ever hear from you. Our species was designed to be capable of forming complex words and thinking in abstract for a good reason. As I have touched upon elsewhere, that in combination with our ability to create and manipulate tools is the only reason our species is so dominant on the planet. And stupidity on a mass scale, such as the belief that we can simply continue to breed indiscriminately without fear of retribution, is the biggest threat to that dominant position, if not the species itself.
As one of my favourite proverbs state, wisdom begins with calling things by the right name. Which begs a question. What is the proper word for the stream of raving words that I spew onto this site with seemingly excessive regularity? Circumlocution, the use of more words than is necessary to express an idea, is a possibility, but does not quite fit. Meandering, a word for taking a winding or indirect course, both physical or in conversation, is a bit closer, but it does not exactly describe a whole stream of such. I shall have to investigate a proper word for a stream of meanderings at another time. But to call this online publication of mine a “blog” is a teensy bit insulting when looked upon in these terms.
Hopefully, this meandering enlightened you somewhat. If not, go to hell.
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