Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Word on Words

Hey kids.  I've been rather preoccupied with the passive insanity (or is that inanity?) of my mental landscape, which appears to have experienced a little bit of a tectonic shift. 

Poverty has forced me inward which is the last thing I need, truth be told.  But with no options for diversion, I'm hoping I'll get bored enough to finish washing the dishes that are still packed in boxes (since April) and finish setting up my apartment.  It's starting to get on my nerves (yes, it takes me four months to be oppressed by a mess). 

But that's not why I felt like blogging today.

As some of y'all know, I'm a legal assistant.  Lately my job has been making it more and more difficult for me feel in any way important.   I had one of my impatient days yesterday and I REALLY had to watch myself.  Everything pissed me off.  So in an attempt to vent some of this dissatisfaction, I tried to wrap my head around why my job was making me so angry.

Then it came to me.  It's the use of words.  Words are EXTRAORDINARILY precious and interesting to me, so I have a very pronounced reverence for the way they're used.  It just occurred to me HOW differently they're used in varying pursuits.

I decided that lawyers EXPLOIT words.  A lawyer's use of words is crucial to his job, which is why a lot of lawyers get their undergrad in English or Linguistics.  It's crucial because they have to be able to twist a word around and make it work for them - to wrench a version of the truth from it - the version that serves their purpose the best.

Writers/novelists EXALT words (at least some of us try to - admittedly not all accomplish this).  A writer looks a word from every angle, caresses it, gets to know it, and dresses it up.  Different authors have different senses of style of course.  Some prefer a simple summer dress while others want to put their words into showy frocks.  Some writers have no fashion sense - at all.  (I just finished reading the Twilight series - laugh all you want - and while the characters are good and the story is addictive, the language is DREADFUL.  In Meyer's case I think the words were just a means to an end - "well hell, I reckon my words can't go out naked, so I'll dress them in whatever smells the cleanest.") 

Media EXPLOITS, USES, and NEGATES words.  In other words, media (admittedly not all) destroys their meanings and makes them mean something else.  I'm not attacking the media.  They can't help what they are.  They feel a need to either present the words naked, polish them to a nice shine, or splatter mud all over them.  This changes how the world views the word.  The media is where a perfectly healthy and appealing word goes to die.

Scholars and academia try to EXPLAIN them. I kind of fit into this category as well as the writer's category.  Scholars have to understand the words.  Scholars make an attempt to work against the media to bring the dead word back to life or to change it into something more useful than the mangled mess that was left.  Scholars know where and how the word was born, and they try to reflect that.
All of the above are reasons why I have a Compact OED (and why it's one of my prized possessions), about 20 books on word origins, and a few dictionaries and thesauri.  I try to take the ill uses with a grain of salt until I can see the truth or the lie behind them.  I study their shape and color and decide what outfit would most become them.  I study it so I don't forget it.

I really wish more people cared about our sad little words.  Maybe they wouldn't be so easy to manipulate if they did.  And indirectly, the people caring wouldn't be so easy to manipulate either.

What would you most like to see on my new website for unpublished writers?