“Words,” FR David sung in the mid-80s and, a bit later in the song, “how can I find a way to say I love you, words don’t come easy.”
It seems more to me that words come far too easy these days. It’s the meanings of words that don’t come easy.
This seems to be nothing but a pity. There are some things that people don’t say in certain cultures, and they don’t have words for them at all. In English, sometimes, words have a tendency to take a negative form, even when describing something positive.
I had a rant on Twitter about 2 phrases I thought ‘lost something’ in the way they were expressed and others thought they were fine.
1. A shark was having it’s tail cut off – I, with tongue in cheek, thought this sounded as if the shark had asked for this treatment, as if it was ‘having it done.’ This cute little kitten is getting itself abducted?’ OK, maybe it would be said like that. Isn’t that part of the whole anaetheticising nature of TV and instant images though? If the subject is ‘having something done’ it’s OK, because it gave its consent. At the moment it’s just me who thinks this. If you see my point, I’d love to hear from you.
2. Waterstones were ‘highlighting titles to help build your bookshelf’. What, are IKEA using hardback books now in their flat packs? Doesn’t anyone else find this rather patronising? I need Waterstone’s help to fill my one little book shelf? No one else except me saw a problem with this. I think you can ‘build a library’ but ‘build a bookshelf?’ It does sound a bit DIY, doesn’t it?
Is my grump about this that:
- The way these things are worded is patronising to our intelligence,
- They are distracting us from the accurate truth (which I would always prefer to a more cuddly version) or
- That there is a better way of saying the same thing?
All three, actually. It’s not about wanting correct English, it’s about what is implied in the sub-text.
What I find weird is the sub-text of the word used to describe effect, clear and well used English: Plain English. Surely the word plain means dull and uninteresting, unless we have previously taken the word away from its original meaning of plain beauty.
People have accused me of ‘reading meaning into things’ too much. However, if you look at any word, it has more than just its perceived meaning. It has a long history of how that word came about, wrapped up in it. You can see all the people, their beliefs, feelings, habits and surroundings in each word. Our history, politics and society are passed down in our words.
Think of English swear words. Did you know that, when the Normans invaded they decreed that French was what smart people spoke and the Anglo Saxon language was for the native riff-raff. Therefore old Anglo Saxon words (see Chaucer) became the language of the lower social orders. As a result, we have swear words for almost all our daily or more basic functions.
Meanwhile, the French invaders wanted to pretend that they weren’t eating cow (beef) or pig (pork). We can see that maybe Normans weren’t that bothered with fish or chicken.
I learned about political bias at school. You know, where the newspapers will totally omit something they are not interested in and talk incessently about their preferred party or people, even to the extent of pretending to be critical. Try this: see who is mentioned more in the Telegraph in 1984: Margaret Thatcher or Arthur Scargill.
Words can be applied to labelling people, and forming widespread opinion about them. For example, a runner up in the X Factor can be called a ‘failed’ contestant, an ‘also ran’ or simply ‘X Factor loser Bobby Bob’ according to the opinion of the writer and what they think you should think about this person. Tell me that you would regard a ‘runner up’ or a ‘loser’ in the press in exactly the same way please and I’ll eat my hat.
There is a political point to this. The way that a huge and growing population can be controlled easily is with words. When you get a letter telling you something incomprehensible from, say HMRC, and you know you have to do something but can’t understand what, from the words they have imparted, they gain control over you.
Yesterday, I went to Tescos to buy a pack of cigs and they had gone up 35p. In a day. The only way people can say how we think this country can be improved and let the system know when it is not being responsible or having an adverse effect on people’s lives is by saying so. OK, I am using an example involving cigarettes. Live with it. (Not telling you to passive smoke, by the way).
If we lose the highest power given to us freely by words, the power to pin things down and instigate action, we weaken our lives. If something doesn’t work and you don’t complain, whoever did it can go away thinking everything is fine. They don’t need to be responsible as they didn’t get a response.
Complaining is an art form as well. It’s best done by using words to objectively and succinctly put the situation that doesn’t work in front of the person who can do something about it. If they can’t, go over their head, etc. Someone, somewhere can, and should, want to do something. The more people who say the same thing, the less likely you will hear, ‘well, you seem to be the only person who’s got a problem with this’. (Sub-text to this is very clear).
Violence is much weaker than words. Why? Because you give your power away if you lose your temper or use your fists instead of communication. You can be dismissed or worse if you can’t find the words to make your point and act out in frustration.
How frustrating is it when someone is rude to you and you are left gaping with your mouth open because no reply will come?
If you want change: act. With words.