Without Words

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green Desklamp

Among the many blessings inherent to being a writer, paramount among them is the gift of always having the right word for a given occasion. Any writer—and even well-read non-writers—knows the thrill of pulling out some million-dollar word that so perfectly encapsulates your predicament it seems made just for the occasion. But recently, I found myself wondering just what sort of blessing this is, and whether with every proud smile and impressed friend that comes with knowing how to effectively articulate some miniscule event, some greater thrill may be lost.

What would the world be like without words?

Not many know—and those that do would certainly have a difficult time expressing it. It’s a primal sort of idea, hearkening back to cold days huddled around small fires on the plains of the savannah; gazing with inexpressible unease into the encroaching dark.

Sitting at that fire, you might feel the cold creeping into your bones, and with no words for why, toss another handful of sticks onto the glowing coals of your salvation. The flames would lick up; tiny firefly sparks sailing up into the boundless night sky to get lost among the countless, brilliant stars that watch you each night from above as the wolves watch from below.

The heat would swell, pushing back the creeping chill of night in its eternal yet ultimately futile battle. You might smile, and your head would swim with the wonder of it all. You would understand the connections and worship the results, but you’d have no words for the meaning behind it. A smile would have to suffice.

The next day would find you rested and warm, the sun back again, reliable as ever, chasing away the nameless demons of night and promising again that the familiar cycle would continue. And you would be glad.

There would be no words for the joy that day brings, nor the trepidation you might feel when the thunder clouds roll in, covering up the sun and threatening with their deep voices to tear the sky asunder.

With all the terrible fury of an unimagined god they would come, beating down with rain and hail from above, and shattering the mountaintops with flashes of authority beyond description.

Imagine then the relief when they passed, and again the world returned to normal—like it always did. Imagine the thrill of security and the reassuring surge of faith in your pounding heart: imagine it all without words.

So too would every waking moment be defined by such wonder. In the world we live in now—there are words for everything, even if at times many seem to fall so pitifully short.

Without words, how confounding would be ideas like hate, and love, and grief. Without a means of expressing them, how could we ever let go of that which hurt or hallowed us. All would be reduced to the guttural screams of terror or triumph; communication shackled to the hair-tearing passions of inarticulate isolation.

With no weather systems or science or writing, the world would be an unpredictable place of magic and mania—and every turn would bring some uplifting new idea which would lie stillborn on lips incapable of giving them birth.

It’s a marvellous but inaccessible idea. I think about it a lot, and slide every time down an unspeakable precipice of wonder and nostalgia, as if touching by proxy upon the culturally inherited passions we all share in our ancient past. It fills me with an incredible sense of awe, but each time I’m moved to encapsulate the extent of such feelings, I find sadly that I am without words.

-Brad OH Inc.

On Internet Speak and the Decay of Culture

Under the Green Desklamp…

Green Desklamp

When I was just a young Corporate Person, amongst the greatest formative influences on my impressionable little mind were the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. An interesting and little appreciated fact about Tolkien however is that he was not a writer by trade, but rather a linguistics scholar and professor of Old-English at the University of Oxford (Source).

It was his love of language, as well as his experiences in the trenches of WWI which informed his writing, and anyone familiar with his oeuvre will see the deep impact of his linguistic inclination etched into the very bones of Middle-earth.

Language is a powerful tool—one that defines our world and our relationships with others. In the article ‘The Metaphorical Imperative’, I expounded my idea about how the human ability for abstract thought, and the inherent search for meaning which naturally accompanies that ability, define us as animals. The combination provides us with an unending desire to explore and understand the world about us, while simultaneously giving us the tools to create answers to those very questions.

Language course is of an integral part of this equation. Our native language informs the way we interpret the world, and our thoughts are more-or-less bound by the linguistic constructs of the language or languages we speak.

Lately however, I feel a growing unease as I consider the direction that language is taking, and wonder about the implications this carries for society as a whole. I am referring to the decay of language easily evidenced by only a brief perusal of any internet message board or social network’s comments section. Obscure acronyms, lack of nuance, mutilated spellings, marred syntax, and a litany of other bastardizations of the English language will be the dominant form of expression almost anywhere you look.

It can become a depressing state of affairs, and if given sufficient consideration, might inspire in the reader a grave concern for the direction of society.

As a matter of context, let us consider the following scenario:

A young couple are out on their first date at an upscale Italian eatery. Shondra, 24, is a well-read academic hoping to find a stable partner as she starts out her own career. Ethan, 26, works from home, and spends the majority of his time honing his ‘memeing’ skills online. They sit now at a pristine table, a single candle providing ambiance in the dim room. Conversation buzzes all around them as diners enjoy their meal. Shondra and Ethan have just started their main course.

“Mmm, this pasta is really delicious,” says Shondra, a polite hand over her mouth as she finishes her initial helping of Chicken Linguini.

“Well, that’s just your opinion,” replies Ethan, shoveling another spoonful of Cannelloni into his mouth.

Shondra’s thinly drawn eyebrows furrow upon her pretty face. “That would be why I said it,” she replies. She isn’t entirely sure why Ethan felt motivated to highlight this fact, being that her voicing it obviated its being her opinion.

“Why do you say so?” She asks, hoping to gleam some deeper meaning from his statement of obvious facts.

“Because reasons,” Ethan answers, a wry smile on his face implying he felt this answer was both sufficient and witty. “Lol,” he finishes, as if to reinforce the embedded humour of this retort.

“So,” continues Shondra, undeterred by her mounting frustration. “What do you do in your downtime?”

Ethan flashes her a broad smile. “I like to RATIE all day.”

“Ratie?” Shondra asks, hoping Ethan might have some interesting new pastime with which she is as yet unacquainted.

“Yeah, Relax and take it Easy, duh.” Ethan sneers as he speaks, and forks another glob of pasta into his mouth. “This Cannelloni is amazing, its literally the best thing in the whole world.”

Shondra sighs. “Why didn’t you just say that, how could I have known that obscure acronym?

“And best thing in the world? I’m not sure you understand what ‘literally’ means.”

“I know right, how ironic!”

A tight frown mars Shondra’s pretty mouth. Suddenly, a gob of marinara sauce splatters into her face, causing her to howl in shock.

Ethan grins from ear to ear. “Trollololo!” He declares triumphantly.

Wiping it off with a fresh napkin, Shondra struggles to maintain her composure. “What the hell was that for?” She demands.

“YOLO,” comes Ethan’s response, “C’mon babe, I’ve got too much swag to have to justify myself, you need to calm down.”

“You’re acting like an ignorant cretin,” Shondra speaks in monotone.

“Cretin, more like epic, amirite?”

Shondra rises from the table now. “Ethan, this is clearly not going to work, I’m sorry to have wasted your time.” With that, she turns gracefully on her heel and makes her hasty exit.

Ethan is devastated. His mouth hangs open in shock, small drops of marinara falling down onto his ‘Affliction’ shirt. Setting his fork on the table, he sinks despondently down into his chair. “The feels…” he laments.

In this scene clearly, the stunted and overly specific language of the internet is entirely unfit for social situations. This is not the adaptive environment of such communication styles however, and due consideration must be given to where and when such conventions may be necessary.

For instance, being that online communication lacks the intonation inherent to verbal communication, some leeway may be given to the use of emoticons and clarifying abbreviations such as ‘j/k’ or ‘lol’.

Other conventions, such as the steadfast insistence on labelling every opinion as such no matter how obvious or redundant the label may be have arisen as a knee-jerk defenses to the volatile escalation so fostered in the anonymous confines of online communication.

Is this stylistic shift a hallmark of decaying culture and failing intellect, or is it a natural evolution of language resulting from our increasingly technological means of communicating, coupled with our busier schedules and lack of face-to-face contact?

Neither possibility should be dismissed out of hand. There can be little denial that language must evolve with the times. As new technologies and scientific or philosophical revelations change the way we view the world, language perforce needs to evolve in order to keep up.

So too with technologically driven changes in the way we communicate. Few would question the need to end a radio transmission with ‘over’, indicating to the other end that the line is now open for them to transmit.

Conversation over the internet is fundamentally different from other means of communication. It is detached, anonymous, and often responses come minutes, hours, or even days after the initial statement. With these challenges, the need for adaptive language is clear.

Still, many of the changes are hard to defend as strictly adaptive, and may be more so a product of the anonymity provided by online correspondence.

Is the internet becoming an unreadable mess? Is language and culture crumbling as people become less directly socially connected? Or is online communication actually an effective bridge between people, increasing social interaction—with language simply adapting to fit the needs of the new social environment?

What do you think? Please feel free to take up the discussion in the comments section—after all, ‘Divine Duty of Discourse’ is one of the 5 Central Commandments of The New Corporate Religion of Brad OH Inc.

-Brad OH Inc.