The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “language”

Is language a prostitute queen?

“Nothing is so easy as to deceive one’s self when one does not lack wit and is familiar with all the niceties of language. Language is a prostitute queen who descends and rises to all roles. Disguises herself, arrays herself in fine apparel, hides her head and effaces herself; an advocate who has an answer for everything, who has always foreseen everything, and who assumes a thousand forms in order to be right. The most honorable of men is he who thinks best and acts best, but the most powerful is he who is best able to talk and write” – George Sand, in “Indiana”

A character in a TV show who was talking about abuse said that scars and bruises heal, but abusive words said to another person last forever. As soon as she said it, I thought of this passage in George Sand’s 1832 novel Indiana. It was written when sentiments in France were in a state of flux between being ruled by a hereditary monarch or a constitutional monarch. The debate was endless, but veiled somewhat behind the eloquence of well-practiced aristocratic conversations that were an art form well-outside the scope of today’s conversations at dinner and formal affairs.

Yet, as a writer, I am disturbed by the passage. Many people say that actions speak louder than words. There is truth in that, I think. But many people also believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. Over time, perhaps, though not on a battlefield.

Today, as we hear a lot of words from both sides of the political spectrum, we’re hearing a lot about biased news and fake news, so it becomes harder and harder to tell what the truth of any matter is. If language is, or can be used as a prostitute queen, people are being quite often swayed these days by more words than actions. Yet, I take issue with the suggestion that those of us who write are somehow in league with Voldemort–or the devil of your choice–and cannot be trusted.

I don’t think words are forever as the TV actress said on the show, but in the context of the scene, that idea made sense. Most words are, I think, forgotten. Or, their importance dims with time as people hear fresh words that make more sense, that seem more true to them, that they can prove by doing a little soul searching or fact checking.

Yet, I think that with times as they are now, a lot of people would agree with George Sand’s author’s comment in her novel. Personally, I don’t think the words–or language itself–are at fault. The people who use words badly, who have thinly veiled agendas, who seldom bother with the truth, who replace facts with opinions and/or slick writing–they are the ones making us distrust words while giving those words more power over us than they actually have.

–Malcolm

 

How other languages can reveal the secrets to happiness

“The limits of our language are said to define the boundaries of our world. This is because in our everyday lives, we can only really register and make sense of what we can name. We are restricted by the words we know, which shape what we can and cannot experience.”

Source: How other languages can reveal the secrets to happiness

conversationWhen we study other languages, it doesn’t take long to find words that have no direct translation into our own. Just as exasperating is discovering that something we can express in our own language with a single word has no correlation in the language we’re studying.

As writers, we try to get around being chained by the language in which we write by (sometimes) making up words (though not going as far out as James Joyce), using metaphors, experimenting with experimental prose, using widely known words in other languages, and polishing short passages so that we can get around the limits of our available word choices.

I like this article, which focuses on happiness, because it articulates a problem writers often see but that is, in a way, hidden from anyone who speaks a single language and has never studied any others: our perception is limited but we don’t realize that it’s limited.

–Malcolm

Sound Familiar? A report from the battlefield in the war on clichés

Sound Familiar? | The Weekly Standard.

“Johnny nailed it: Clichés are tired expressions. Their fatigue comes from their having been overused, and often badly used. They are words and phrases that no longer carry much meaning and have even less force. They reveal mental laziness on the part of those who use them. They are despoilers of style. Using clichés is like dressing out of the dirty-laundry bag—someone else’s dirty-laundry bag.”

When it comes to fighting clichés, the war isn’t over until the fat lady sings “Mama don’t allow no tired expressions around here.”

Malcolm

Poetry: Who Needs It? – NYTimes.com

Poetry: Who Needs It? – NYTimes.com.

“GAINESVILLE, Fla. — WE live in the age of grace and the age of futility, the age of speed and the age of dullness. The way we live now is not poetic. We live prose, we breathe prose, and we drink, alas, prose. There is prose that does us no great harm, and that may even, in small doses, prove medicinal, the way snake oil cured everything by curing nothing. But to live continually in the natter of ill-written and ill-spoken prose is to become deaf to what language can do.”

I love the cool graphic that goes with this interesting article.

–Malcolm

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