Category Archives: Language

Chillax, It’s Totes English For All Of Us

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It’s not about whether you accept a word as standard usage or not; it’s that our shared language ignores your opinion. That semicolon that I just used? Obsolete. Or out-dated, if you prefer more unwieldy adjectives. (Much like the letter ‘c’ in ‘adjective.’)

Words need no invitation. They are born from our careless lips and either languish or flourish. It’s just as futile as arguing whether a tulip is more beautiful than a dandelion. (The correct answer is undoubtedly ‘dandelion,’ though, for the record.) English is coldly practical about your derision of its children. It also allows many of its creations to wither without a second glance. Language is neither math nor codified science and there is no universal standard which determines which children live under its roof. Not to hound the point, but even the word ‘dog’ wasn’t originally our word. It took a long time for it to replace ‘hound.’ Yet, we now have both words, with ‘dog’ being top-dog. (And 10 other ones, for good measure, ones into which you can stick your canines.) Irregular verb conjugations dissolve over time, much like our ability to have an expansive view of subjective subjects. Being difficult largely results in a short trip to the dustbin. Oddly enough, though, English has a wordlist longer than any other language. We steal words like pieces of candy from grandma’s purse.

In the 70+ years you’ll use our language, massive change will creep into it. You can resist or embrace it. It’s why we no longer speak Latin and that even basic spelling fills a chasm between us and our mother tongue in England. You’re standing in a river as it flows.

A better use of your time, though, would be to learn at least one other language. It will help to rupture the nonsensical insistence that ‘standard’ or ‘proper’ is anything except a label. It’s hard for me to understand how someone who hasn’t mastered more than language can ignore the certainty of expression another language provides. Competing languages express the same thoughts, hopes, and ideas of one’s mother tongue, yet do so under an alien alphabet and syntax. This is the only proof you need that wasting one’s life over semantics in a language is folly. Early English was considered too crude to express abstract concepts. Some speculate that this is still the case. Some of our current users make us wince in pain and beg to have pencils shoved into our ear canals.

It’s fascinating that language is designed first and foremost for communication yet so many fights pour from the incessant evolution of its form and content. The only winnable war where words reside is to yield and abstain from the fight. Just as most people can’t adequately explain the engines in their personal vehicles, most can’t diagram a sentence or correctly detail the preferred syntax of the language they use for their entire lives.

Whether you want to be in the same boat with those who share your language, you’re there nonetheless, all of us with rows in the water, all of us both perpetrator and victim to the infinite nuances and bastardizations of words and expression. You can row backward if you want but it is counterproductive.

Observing harsh criticisms of language’s evolution, I am confounded. The history of our language is one of appropriation, misuse, creation, and abuse. Why then do so many seemingly ignore the tower of linguistic history behind us?

If you loathe words such as bae, bling, hangry, deglobalization, listicle, ginger, humblebrag, infomania, bromance, totes, chillax, binge-watch, meme, staycation, or any of the other hundreds of words taking up residence in our collective lexicon, I can only say that you’re going to have an unpleasant road ahead of you. It’s what we’ve always done. We welcome all comers to our dictionary. Some stand at the doorstep longer than others but usage knocks loudly and those with an upturned nose lose their votes as time and repetition makes way for all manner of poorly-constructed houseguests.

Language belongs to all who use it. You’ll pass on soon enough, leaving your usage in a hazy trail of rules which will not hold up over time. Language is for the living. The greater your resistance, the more likely that your own evolution of expression is now frozen in a fixed place, one which you’ve placed in a tidy box marked ‘Finished.’ Because it is – and you are.

The Futility of Caring Less In A Couldn’t Care Less World

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If someone says, “I should be so lucky!” it implies that they know they’ll never be that lucky. Everyone except those recently hit on the head with a Wile E. Coyote anvil easily recognize the words spoken and the intended meaning. The word for such a phrase is ‘idiom,’ which can be loosely defined as ‘words which have incorporated a meaning not easily evident in the words themselves.’ In other words, an idiom can take on any meaning we ascribe to it, regardless of how divorced it is from logic, lexicon, and lippitude. The more vibrant and involved a culture is, the more likely that the language used has evolved in an infinite trajectory, one more often determined by confused and seemingly incoherent words.

Those most invested in the idea of a stagnant and static language usually tend to be those who incorrectly think they’ve arrived at the imaginary train station marked as “Correct.” They tend to look at a painting and see that the proportion is slightly off rather than observe that a great work of art sees them as well, in part precisely due to its defect. While language’s mechanics might be best understood in the mind of a master, it is on the lips of the young and those dancing around the fringes of normal usage who see to it that it undergoes the transformation which grants our words magic.

Usage, collectively or popularly applied, constantly creates idioms that defy their own origins. Entire books have been written on the subject and a million doctoral candidates have expounded on the folly and futility of language. The well of this subject will never run dry, as most of its underpinnings sit on opinion rather than science. The rules can be any we choose. Regardless of our choices, none of us will ever learn ‘Standard English’ as a means toward poetry or as a dialect born in our infancy.

For me, it is sport to watch educated and well-intentioned people gnash their teeth at one another for esoteric perceptions of correctness. Almost all who do battle on the field of language do so at their own peril. At feud’s end, the language has already expatriated itself to foreign terrain, evolving even in the midst of disagreement. For those who’ve not noticed, I root for the team advocating a dose of anarchy.

Another peculiarity of our language is that we can juxtapose both negative and positive connotations of the same words and phrases, yet mean exactly the same thing. Our language is stuffed with examples, ones which remind us that language is not math and the roadmap toward language in no way follows a logical course. If I shout, “I can’t hardly wait!” you know that I’m full of enthusiasm. On the other hand, if I shout, “I can hardly wait!” I mean exactly the same thing. Both listener and speaker understand the context and content of the contradictory utterances. You can artfully quibble with this specific example but be warned that our language is an arsenal of similarly-defective pairings.

When you snarl your lip and smugly make your assertions, you are not presenting the scholarly front that you anticipate; you’re demonstrating an unwillingness to bend to reality. Language is not math and it certainly isn’t logic. Its consistency lies only in the recognition that it cannot be learned like a finite subject.

We use the word ‘awesome’ without stopping to consider that ‘awful’ also derived from the same root. Usage redefined the intention of the words. I could literally write a list a mile long, one filled with words which have drifted away from their linguistic docks, often to mean the opposite of its cousins.

Having written all the above, I move to one of my most cherished phrases: “I couldn’t care less.” An idiom which reveals the flawed understanding of its detractors more efficiently would be impossible to find. Many an argument has been waged by those using the word in the presence of those who’ve made up their mind about an idiom that means exactly what it is supposed to.

There is no real controversy here, not really. Before this phrase appeared in popular usage, even before its counterpart of “could care less,” people always said, “No one could care less than I.” If said aloud, this phrase sounds as if it had been born in the stilted and feverish imagination of a terrible English writer. It died precisely because of its ridiculousness.

Saying, “I couldn’t care less” in no way conveys confusion, except in the mind of the person who doesn’t understand language, idioms, or the dynamic and evolving presence of our language. If you persist in your insistence that “I couldn’t care less” isn’t correct, you are doing so in contradiction to all evidence to the contrary. You have become contrary yourself.

Language is whatever we decide it is to be.

The sacrosanct of today will soon lie dormant on our lips, replaced by what is to come.

Your objections?

I couldn’t care less.
Love, X

A Home Remedy For the Grammer Police

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NSFW. Contains language about language.

*Yes, I know how to spell ‘grammar,’ but that’s the point.

 

The world is a small place sometimes. It’s hard to gauge where my ideas might reach. In places where people don’t know me, my ideas seem plausible. In others, people point to what I’ve written as a short-hand to get their point across. They write, “This,” with a link, or “This reminds me of you.” To be fair, many people also tell me I’m a moron, but with a lesser frequency that I would have otherwise expected to be the case.

When I write about people having the freedom to take back their own languages and use and abuse them as they see fit, most of the response is overwhelmingly positive. There is indeed a time and place for exacting language – and that time and place is normally one which doesn’t require our presence, much less enthusiasm, for it. The responsibility for language’s needless complexity does not fall upon the average user.

On one of my alter-ego projects, someone wrote me. She was irritated at a few of her well-meaning and passive-aggressive friends and family, some of whom apparently rejoice in being grammar police. She told me that several of her friends and family were afraid to post anything and sometimes say anything, anticipating the overzealous criticism. She had tried ignoring them, politely asking them to stop and finally, in a last-ditch effort, she started lashing out at them. She saw some of my craziness on someone’s blog and decided to offer me a chance to weigh in.

My appeals to tell those who think English is a fixed target should go jump in a frozen lake struck a chord with her. She said she had never thought of Standard English as a formal and shared means to learn a dialect that no one learned at home – or that spoken language drives the language no matter how many cries of anguish we hear from those invested in “correct English.”

“I need a way to get my point across, even with a sledgehammer, if necessary. What do you recommend?” she wrote.

“Well, if you’re all adults, I recommend avoiding behavior which invites more contempt. They’re not going to change, that much is obvious. It’s not a ‘you’ issue, not really. They need to gain esteem by policing other people. You can’t fix them, so you need to focus their attention away from you.” So far, so good, as I wrote back.

“First, it’s important that you politely tell each person who has been a pain in your rear to please stop and that further trolling is unwelcome. Then, each time one of your friends, family, or acquaintances pulls their grammar nonsense, send them this,” I wrote:

<To the grammar police: You put the ‘dick’ in ‘dicktionary.’ Regards, Don’t Care >

 

I told her to write it every time someone pulled out their bag of tactics on her – after they ignored one more final polite request to please stop. If they responded with anger, write the same thing, over and over. If they tried to police her in person, I told her to say it out loud, even in awkward social situations. I pointed out that her social faux pas was no greater than theirs, that of policing other adults in trivial matters.

“If that doesn’t work, let me know.” I wished her well and told her to follow through every time her hackles went up. I reminded her that it was senseless for her to get upset and to instead transfer that irritation back those being jerks. I warned that it would take time. She told me that a few of her friends and family had been torturing her for years and that a few weeks of concerted effort would be better than living the rest of her life under the thumb of a bunch of control freaks.

Several days later, she wrote me and told me that at first it really bothered her to be discourteous. After a few times, though, she got invested in the reaction. She had one last hold-out, though, a family member who tended to lash out about any topic, whether it be politics, religion, grammar, or how to fold towels in the guest bathroom.

I asked her to send me the name of the family member so that I could get a picture from their social media. After she did so, I told her to check her email and follow the instructions and to only follow them if the person torturing her didn’t heed one last polite request to please stop bothering her.

Over a week later, she wrote back, to tell me that it had worked beyond belief.

Her family member had become irate and sent an email and social media messenger blast to all their mutual friends and family, accusing her of lashing out without reason. Her family member didn’t stop to realize that it provided the victim with a list of everyone affected. She wrote back to all of them, asking them to let her know if they were interested in knowing the real story. Most did and after reading her explanation were completely on board. Almost all agreed that it would be better for everyone to ignore what they perceived as errors – and to certainly not condone those who continued to be jerks after politely being asked to step away or to bother someone else who had no objection.

The picture attached to this post is what she emailed, after begging and politely requesting relief at least a dozen times…

 

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P.S. It’s important that anyone reading this understand that at each stage I insist that the first course of action is to respond with politeness and courtesy, even if the person making your life a living hades is beyond redemption.

P.P.S. I didn’t invent the word ‘dicktionary.’

 

 

The Very Thing

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*Written as a response to someone who says it shouldn’t be done this way…
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“Very,” I whisper into the wind. I look up for a second, seeing a world devoid of words, yet never at a loss for perfect expression.

Around me, a gathering mist settled and the air moved with a tinge of chilliness. My coffee had long since turned cold, absently set aside and neglected.

Sitting on the park bench at the edge of the woods, I read the words which had cascaded from my mind, through my fingers, and onto the paper on my lap. I imagined the voice of a high school English teacher, almost deafening with assumed authority. In my head, I heard her lecture us all about using words lazily. Her principal argument was that our language was an ocean of possible variations and that we owed it to ourselves to avoid banality. “Treat the word ‘very’ like a curse,” she would say, and “Choose a word more powerfully suited to your audience.” Her age granted her solemnity in her own mind; to me, it was a reminder that she was the gatekeeper to the way things once were. She erred on the side of the thesaurus, confident that complexity equated to prose. I learned her dance and to use words like suffocating blankets.

Hearing her ghostly voice in my head, I reminded myself that sometimes language was a thing of comfort and better-suited toward a regression toward simplicity. For most of us, “mom” was our first word, and words such as “fireplace,” although unimaginative, evoke emotional memories. The basic words survive precisely because of their universal connections. Since then, I’ve heard and read a 1,000 admonitions regarding words of simplicity or substitution and ‘very’ inevitably sits on the list. I read them all in the shrill voice of an unimaginative authority. They are not wrong, I will admit. They are not right, either, not entirely, and certainly not to me.

For all the thousands of childhood hours spent inside books, most of the authors wrote and spoke to me as friends and none seemed to evoke the authoritarian spectacle of my teacher. Rules were made to be understood and then discarded as needed, or locked away inside a private box until they learned to bend and behave to the will of the person giving them new life. Magic forever resided in the outlying edges of words.

For much of my life, my amateurish efforts have helped me overcome the grip of perfectionism which seems to haunt people who earn their living sharing words with strangers. I look at words like I might an expanse of piano keys, each key assigned a note but when played as a whole, an infinite stream of beauty. “Very” was one of those piano keys, easily substituted, but placed there with reason. Today’s melody might be one of majestic and operatic symmetry; tomorrow’s might be suited for an intimate dinner. I would not presume to tell the man clearing my sidewalks of snow that the roads were perilous. He’d rather know that they are risky.

Even as I sat on the bench, quiet and unmoving, an entire universe was swirling in my thoughts. I thought of my past, of my youth, and of the slow pop of the logs in the wood stove of the shotgun house in a field of cotton. That thing was both heat and community, a thing beyond its confines.

“How very beautiful, this thing of memory,” I whisper.

The thing that belied my simplicity of language was also somehow responsible for juxtaposing creativity and expression.

May your ‘very’ be forever at your lips, even if you’re told it shouldn’t be.

X

It’s Your Language – Use It With Abandon

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You don’t need my permission, of course. You certainly don’t need my approval, either. Likewise, you are entitled to roll your eyes in derision, mockery or contempt at anyone who corrects you for your punctuation or grammar in a text message. Unless your relationship is based on inequality, you should also expand this idea to include all private messages.

I’m not advocating total disregard for decorum – it’s not an invitation to use the ceiling fan to shave your back hair. Rather, my point is that anyone who takes the time to admonish you for informal text communication is a bigger nuisance than any perceived wrongdoing from sloppy language.

If the other person is chiding you good-naturedly, it doesn’t count as snobbery, so try to let those instances slide without a street duel. I’m not advocating that you be an ass to light-hearted cajoling or ridicule. What I am asking is that you take charge of your life and stop worrying about grammar and content when you are informally communicating. We didn’t vote on this concern – so ignore it.

It’s amazing how much of your life can be lived in this manner. Even a life perfectly lived will draw criticism, right down to the style of pants you wear or how you like to eat your french fries.

Those who relish correcting grammar can’t be stopped, so it’s best to adopt the position that they all suffer from the incurable disease of Grammar Tourette’s Syndrome, except their affliction stems from the mistaken idea that they are arbiters of grammar, spelling, and usage and this status compels them to lash out in self-appointed glee.

Sidenote: English doesn’t have a committee to decide usage or structure. It’s a fluid, evolving mass of ridiculous logic and rules. It belongs to all of us. Standard English is a myth we strive for without pausing to consider that it’s a moving target. Even if we understand the rules, they certainly don’t hold sway in our intimate private lives.

Life is short. Using tools for rapid, convenient communication should not be an ordeal or an exercise in English 101. Be as vigilant as you find it necessary to be and adjust accordingly. But if your blurbs to others are treated with a hostile eye, assume that the person complaining is a bit of an ass and go about your life as if his or her presence in no way determines how you’ll live. That part is most certainly true.

One of life’s greatest pleasures is knowing the rules and ignoring them. No matter how vigilant you are with language, you’re going to make mistakes. Even when you’ve followed all the rules, there will still be disagreement, even among the most educated and learned individuals. Language is not science, nor will it ever be. Since it’s always evolving, become a deliberate part of that process and reject all the components and obligations which don’t serve you.

Take a moment and really, really piss off a language purist. Write as you will and laugh when the sputtering objections commence. If they’ve taken the time to let you know how irritated they are by your lack of adherence to the ‘rules,’ you owe it to yourself to help them get over their unnatural affliction.

Get out your phone and text someone now. Pretend that you’re drunk and can’t spell any word longer than ‘eel.’ You’ll thank me for it.

K?

Your welcome

C U later.

Apostrophonies

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Apostrophonies: a word to describe those dedicated to the linguistic contortions of logic and denial to justify the continued existence of the apostrophe.

After years of watching the apostrophe debate ebb and flow, I’m voting that we eliminate it. Most of our communication occurs verbally and we’ve survived centuries without needing to wave our arms when an apostrophe is needed.

The grammar brigade can gnash their teeth in protest as they make the tired argument that tradition trumps utility or that our collective language will lose some of its elegance. It’s snobbery to decry nonstandard usage and it bemoans the history of every single change to our language.

Elimination of the apostrophe isn’t a capitulation to the myth of uneducated misuse or modern texting; it’s an overdue necessity. Our language has continuously evolved, and usage determines its structure. We have no arbiter of official usage; “Standard English” is a myth perpetuated by those whose livelihood depends on it, comprising a cabal of dusty minds looking backward.

To make matters worse, many people don’t realize we have a verb to describe the insertion of an apostrophe: apostrophize. Or ‘apostrophise,’ if you’re in the country in which our language was birthed.

One can make subtle arguments regarding those instances when an apostrophe MIGHT reduce vagueness, but if this is your argument, you can’t turn a blind eye toward the other 3 dozen ways in which English contains aberrant structures which inhibit clear understanding.

Contractions, plurals, plural possessives, apostrophes-of-omission, and all other usages have exceptions which don’t further the objective of language or increase its beauty.

Like it or not, we can literally change the language in any manner we see fit. We’ll either rid ourselves of the apostrophe or worsen its usage as people struggle against its ongoing and needless usage in our language.

The apostrophe should get its coat and make a graceful exit before we kick it in the seat of the pants.

Purists might miss it but I’m certain they’ll find another rallying cry of illogic to focus on. Those insisting on tradition always do.

Please remember that I love language but despise the focus on mechanics. Language should not be an obstacle to expression.

P.S. Remember that I’m not advocating for a free-for-all in regards to all rules, so please cook up a better point about what I am NOT saying.

Disvidisia

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After reading a friend’s post about the perplexity of inattention for an artist, especially in this golden age of social media, I began to wonder whether a precise word exists for the sensation she was attempting to describe. I volunteered to create a word to encompass the described melancholy or resigned sensation, regardless of which method of expression the artist chooses.

Before going off on a wordy tangent, here’s my paraphrasing of what she was describing:

“…the untethered feeling a creative person gets when they see that an acquaintance shows deep interest in the happenings in some far-flung place or in the life of a distant stranger, acreage they’ll never traverse or people he or she will never meet and whose trajectory may as well be that of an alien star, often regarding some mundane subject, while turning a blind eye toward their expression, one which germinates in their own backyard…”

I think writers and artists might be the most prone to experience this detachment.

It’s ridiculously easy to share what others have created, to choose words and media designed to urge us toward an emotional reaction. Creating anything is an invitation to criticism; honest artists often share themselves.

Prophets are seldom appreciated in their own communities. Authors, painters, and musicians tend to be ignored until they become substantial; proximity stymies allure. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is a cliché with truth. We tend to need an outsider to tell us what we already know or we will reject the truth from those around us.

So many creative minds experience disconnectedness prior to recognition and when it comes, those same people comprising his or her initial disinterested audience clamor for reciprocity. It’s easy to overlook the fact that all those we find valuable once started with small voices, drawing, singing, writing and acting in small places. (And most of the time were labeled as eccentric or untalented.)

The biggest surprises come from the strangest places.

Doors to familiar houses seldom open to new rooms.

Disvidisia

 

 

 

 

This is a modified version of a post I wrote in September of last year. It struck a chord in many places – and not all were harmonious.