Words I Unfriend

I really hate the term “Blogging”. Actually I dislike turning nouns into what I would believe are rather lazy one word descriptions of any activity. Maybe it’s the confusion that such words create. If one is journaling does that make one a journalist? Even my spellchecker doesn’t like that word. Would it be better to call someone who keeps a journal, that is, a private record of thoughts and perhaps actions, a journaler? Ah, another spellchecker dislike. Personally, I prefer the more descriptive term of writer. Yet even that I tend to shy away from using when applying that word or term to my own writing. I’ve always felt that one should not be called a writer unless one is actually paid for the writing one writes.

But adding “ing” to nouns does not always produce the desired result. If I play football am I now engaged in footballing? Whether it is soccer or American football, labeling that activity as footballing seems a bit odd. On the other hand mountain climbing sounds perfectly reasonable. I am borrowing money at the bank and marrying my true love. I suppose that marrying sound a little better that getting married although for the latter that combination future tense of getting contrasts ni9cely with the past tense of married. The past being so final an act. Ah yes, as Linda Loo in Flower Drum Song exclaims “Nothing is as good as being married!” Our choices of words often arise as the results of habits. And habits are often formed on the basis of influences of which we may not always be aware.

Ending sentences with prepositions is a very normal activity for most people. How many times did one of your parents of teachers ask, “What are you boys up to?” Very few individuals would ask,”In what activity are you two engaged?” Actually that implies a preposition at the end. “What is the purpose of your activity?” Ah, there we go, asking an eight year old child about purpose, makes sense to me. “My purpose is to break a rule or set of rules you do not wish me to break.” Real dialog. On the other hand we often ask questions that imply an ending preposition but maybe not. “Where are you going?” Few individuals stick the word “to” on the end of that sentence. I don’t know if such problems crop up in other languages, I would suppose that they do since most but not all languages have informal usage. It may be to the chagrin of language mavens that language is such an imprecise method of communications, but it’s the only one we have. The damn thing changes all the time and it is usually the younger generations that indulge in that change. Us old people have a difficult time keeping up with such changes. What use to be neat become cool and then gravitated to groovy and then gnarly and then, well, I’m not really sure. The latest words of approval have been fantastic and now awesome. My kids are awesome, my job is awesome, this and that are awesome. We are such one word wonders at speech. Personally, I hate awesome. I would ban it from all public conversation. Death to any fool who utters that word in my presence. And I would love to kill the use of “selfies”, my god what a stupid word and activity. I think technology had made the young extremely stupid.

Expressions are another form of enjoyment or annoyance, take your pick. Advertisement is particularly destructive to language. “Let’s run that up the flag pole and see who salutes it.” A political favorite is “Mistakes were made.” Or “I take full responsibility.” Really, do you really take full responsibility for the action, situation, etc. Does this mean we should fire you, ignore your previous actions, forgive you? No thief ever “takes responsibility” for the crime of theft. I can see the courtroom now. The judge asks the defendant, “How do you plead?” “Your honor, I take full responsibility.” That answer should provide grist for the legal jurist’s mill. Ah yes, grist for the mill, another old saying that the young do not understand. I suppose we are still taking things to the limit but I don’t hear that phrase used as often. Thank goodness it’s Friday has been shortened to T.G.I.F, with or without the periods unless you include the trademark of a popular restaurant. I don’t know if the young have their own invention of that phrase, but then I don’t “hang out” or “hang” with them, be in their presence. And I don’t “chill”, “chill out”, or even “be chilin”. I don’t even “cool the rhetoric”, another useless phrase and misuse of the language. I suppose that could have supplanted the phrase, “Talk softly and carry a big dictionary.”

Language is that marvelous means of communication that mankind has devised as an end in itself. For no matter how hard we try to teach other simians to learn and use a language none of our efforts have really worked. Yes, the great big hairy ape in George of the Jungle is quite conversant and very erudite, but animation and voice overs do make the ape, as one might say. Language is no so much an invention by a skill acquired from birth. The brain grows according to the sensory inputs. We are “wired” for pattern recognition and much of the same neural circuity that is used for mathematics is used for learning language. Almost every language has irregular verbs, a holdover from the first forms of prototype-language. One would think that given the very precious gift or acquired skill we would want to be a little more circumspect. Truth of the matter is that we bash it mercilessly. I mean we rip it apart, we shred our language, we beat it senseless. Yet it still comes back for more, daring us, if you like, to do our worst. And in the end, it will out live us all. It will morph into something complete unrecognizable like the Middle English of Chaucer. And in the end we pay our languages our greatest respect, sort of. We carve words in stone, we write words on paper with pen and ink, we print books full of words, full of language. We even argue over its use and whether it can be standardized. And language remains our faithful servant while it reminds us who is the master. And when we leave this mortal coil we pass on our knowledge and experience in its possession. And I grumble about words.


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