You might have missed yesterday’s entry in which I spoke at length about how everything that comes out of the collective mouth of curebies and “person first” tossers is, to quote the pertinent British English term, bollocks. I also explained in indirect terms how curebies prefer “person first” bullshit for reasons that in and of themselves make this mode of speech invalid.
I also signed off the entry with a YouChoob video of a sketch by Hale & Pace that is concerned with how useful the word bollocks is. Because I love the song so much, I have also included a video window of it in this entry, for those who missed it the first time. You can thank me later. But as with all of the things I write about, I left that entry thinking “I am not sure I completely made my point”. So, once again, I am going to yap a lot about language and how we use it, along with the effects it has that we often do not give a second thought to.
Worth looking at is not just how the languages we use today originated and evolved, but the reasons. Let us take English for example. Pretty much everyone who knows anything about language agrees that English is a cobbling together of words and ideas from just about every other language under the sun. But what a lot of people do not give any thought to is how our species developed language at its very beginning, and why. Admittedly, it is a subject I do not know a great deal about myself, but one of the many advantages of a non-physical nature that allowed the Human species to rise to the top of just about every food chain save for those of an oceanic nature is language. We use it not only to coordinate our efforts in hunting and taking down prey that is physically superior to us, we also use it to instruct one another in how to create devices that make that first part of the job even easier. Without language, writing, and extensions thereof that are collectively referred to as engineering, we would not have weapons that allow us to bring down enemies that could kill us in large numbers simply by running into us. As an example that I am sure many will be familiar with, those “smart guns” you see in Aliens (they are wielded by characters portrayed by Mark Rolston and Jenette Goldstein)? Those are mounted on hydraulic arms that were, behind the scenes, made by modifying steadicam mounts. Without that that hydraulic arm, a man of Mark Rolston‘s size would be doing well to carry such a weapon with enough ammunition for one five-second burst, and Jenette Goldstein would not be able to lift the thing at all. For those two soldiers, Drake and Vasquez respectively, to be able to wield these weapons effectively, someone had to write theories, write instructions, draw plans, and then communicate to others how to put those plans into effect many times. That, friends and neighbours, is the impact that language has had on the survival of Humans.
But language is also a two-edged sword. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (the real one, I mean), Douglas Adams describes what he calls a “Babelfish”. The Babelfish is named after the legend of the tower of Babel. This legend has it that once upon a time, we Humans all spoke the same language and could communicate effectively with one another. Thus, nothing was beyond our reach. And we built this tower of Babel in an effort to reach the “gods”, who became so frightened by this that they decided to scatter us to the four winds and put in artificial barriers that meant we could not communicate effectively between races, tribes, or communities. Adams exposed that part of the legend for the bullshit that it is by stating that by effectively removing all interspecies communicative barriers, the Babelfish has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in history. The veracity of that idea is debatable, given that resource shortage can bear at least as much blame for war as miscommunication. But the point here is that the languages we speak reflect the manner in which our ancestors communicated in times when survival entailed a good deal more work than is the case now.
But as our societies, the devices we use to cope with our existences, and our challenges have changed, so too has our language. From the time our languages were “born” to very recently, the idea that there might be people outside of our linguistic circle who communicate in a different way, much less that we might meet them and fail to understand one another, was considered outlandish. The idea was starting to break down somewhat a couple of thousand years ago, when the Romans were building an empire that stretched from one part of what was called Europe to parts of Africa. But it has only been during the last five centuries that the idea of travelling to different continents, ones not connected by land, was even considered. Leave alone considered feasible. And it has only been during the last century and change that being able to travel to a land mass across the world, learn to speak the local language, and bring back findings to our native land in a matter of days was even considered a possibility. And if there is one thing that we have learned about our differing collectives, it is that it takes time not only to learn the basics of another group’s language, it takes a lot of time and immersion to learn the supplementary quirks of different languages. And I think the poets will be lamenting this fact for a number of years to come, but just because we are both talking in English does not necessarily mean that we both speak the same language.
Often, one can hear conservative shitheads crap on about how baaad public schools are because they are supposedly cesspools of crime, violence, and failure. But in reality, public schools have served a great public need by creating a shared system of both basic knowledge and language. Children learn to speak English in a manner that, whilst not always completely consistent with each other, shares enough of a common thread that two people who grew up in the same system can at least understand one another when they talk about a different array of subjects. Yes, there are substantial gaps in the system that work is needed in order to fill. However, the fact that we are able to use text, sounds, and images to communicate urgent, necessary, or other ideas to one another is all thanks to the fact that generations ago, some bright spark decided that people being able to go to school and learn how to both put out and receive these ideas would be beneficial to all of our kind. The wisdom and foresight of this decision can be seen in a number of places. In fiction, examples of this can be seen in television shows like last year’s season of True Blood. Almost the entirety of True Blood is set in a place where the populace is… shall we say, more than just a little bit deficient in terms of education. During the Picture-In-Picture track that was provided with season two, Pam (Kristen Bauer van Straten) asks us flat-out what kind of fukking moron you need to be in order to believe that a dinky chunk of silver that would fit into the palm of a petite Italian model’s hand could somehow bring down a 6’5″, 250+ pound Swedish warrior who grew to that size sometime around the year 1000. She then punctuates this query with a statement that sadly, this kind of moron grows on trees around the township of Bon Temps. So when you have a community that the people of Bon Temps would look down on as a bunch of complete inbred morons, you know something is very wrong with the education systems as they exist in those areas. Bon Temps at least has the virtue of an education system at all, whereas the subcommunity called Hotshot seems to think whatever idiotic ramblings the elders can muster for the benefit of the children will suffice.
I think that this is what gets me the most pissed off at my male parental unit a lot of the time: he does not comprehend that this is one of many reasons why people from places like Newtown or Strathfield look down on people who have spent the first thrity years of their life in places like… well, pretty much all of Queensland. The latter know full well that they are behind in terms of academics and socio-economics, but they sit in the mirror and convince themselves (as well as their children) that they are perfectly okay, even better than, the people who outperform them in every conceiveable way just because they are from that place. A popular gambit in this respect is to claim that the “small town” is safe, unlike the big, baaad city. Then you slap down a simple piece of mathematical calculation on paper in front of them that demonstrates that the per-capita (that is, per thousand or ten thousand) rate of murder is higher in their oh so precious and lovely small town than in the big baaad city. They will not take any notice of this after you leave. They will not do anything that might lower their per-capita murder rate, such as cut down on their level of income inequality on the Gini index. Oh, yeah… the Gini index of income inequality, the measure of how evenly or unevenly the income in a given place is distributed. On this index, a 0 (zero) means everyone has the same income. A 1 (one) means one person in that society gets all of the income. The Gini index, with few exceptions such as Hollywood, or districts like Wall Street or central Sydney, is very frequently higher in their precious little country town than it is in the big, baaad city. As nations go, whilst America loves to proclaim itself the best place to live in the world “‘cos ah said sooo”, the Gini index tells a very different story. America’s level of income inequality is nearly twice that of Sweden, which has the lowest in the world. Other nations have higher levels still than America, but they have names like Somalia (or several other places in Africa), and are known to be even worse places to live.
If you have taken notice of the manner in which I have emphasised or drawn out certain words, then welcome to a quirk of the English language that many do not grok: how you say a word can impact its meaning just as much as the context you put it into. As I have stated in other places, the English language lacks a word that conveys the meaning that a woman is good because she is not afraid or repulsed by her own sexuality. The word “slut” has the exact opposite meaning, and was clearly coined by individuals who were really frightened, to the point of illness, by women who did not cower in the corner in response to thoughts of a sexual nature. Even today, when one hears it spoken aloud, one can hear it roll off the tongue with thousands of years’ worth of loathing and phobia. This manner in which it is spoken does more to convey the depth of its meaning than does the word itself, in spite of how hideous and disgusting the minds of the men who invented it clearly were.
Other languages have words that are directed at others and convey at least as much loathing or contempt. The Spanish word “pendejo” (say, “pen – day – ho”), can be taken a number of different ways, all of which are offensive. On one occasion, I was told the word has a meaning akin to “male version of ‘cunt'”. If one listens to Spanish-speaking men use it in films or television shows, one can immediately tell how many people on set or in the creative control department really knew its meaning. Early on in Predator 2, for example, a hysterical street vendor is talking about how the drug lords and police destroyed his stuff in the crossfire. He raises his voice and screams “you fukking pendejos!” in the direction of the drug lords. The manner in which he screams it makes me think of my English-descended grandmother screaming at me to stop trying to play in the traffic during my childhood (I did not really do that, I am just giving a strong example). It is not how a Mexican would use this word. In Aliens, we are given two examples of the right way to get an actor to utter this word. Jenette Goldstein utters it twice in this film. Once, during the preliminary investigation of the colony’s buildings, just after Hudson (Bill Paxton) covers his microphone and reports “he’s coming in… I feel safer already”. She is saying it quietly, in a context that conveys how the soldiers view the commanding officer in question: they are barely bothering to attempt to veil their contempt because they are sure (rightfully) that he is going to get a lot of them killed. The second time, after he has been hit on the head by falling equipment and is unconscious, after Hicks (Michael Biehn) reports that he is alive, Vasquez angrily roars, “No, he’s dead! Wake up, pendejo! I’m going to kill you!”. This word conveys unbridled contempt, not only for the person but for their right to exist, and you can tell whether someone uttering it understands this by the way they utter it.
“Person with autism” (you knew I was going to get around to this eventually, assuming you are not stupid enough to need me to explain this yet again) carries the same meaning to me as “pendejo”. So if you are going to use it to refer to me, at least have the courtesy to utter it like you are contemptuous of me and my right to exist. Otherwise, you are simply trying to pour perfume on a six foot high lump of fecal matter.
And I honestly cannot tell which of those things I find more annoying.