Guest Post: Language (2015)


Hola blog readers! I’ve been discovering pieces that my husband wrote in years past that, since he is no longer a regular blogger, would be fun to share (I have his blessing, of course), so I thought I’d kick off with this passion piece where he discusses his love of words and language in general…enjoy!

“There is plenty of evidence around to conclude that our grip on our glorious language may be loosening.” – Dick Cavett

Whilst at a bit of a loose end recently I was having a look at a few of those quotation sites, you know the ones I mean and stumbled across the above quote and it gave me pause. Time and again I bump into sound bites, written treatises and the occasional overheard diatribe about the death of, or the near death of language, my language, my lingua, my tongue. Your language.

Oh dear, another one bemoaning the sailor-on-shore-leave state the English language is meant to be in. A mixed up, drunken lothario throwing all caution to the wind and paying little heed to local law and custom and babbling like a baboon.

But before confronting naysayers like Dick allow me to contextualise and to step back a bit.

Whether I hear it as I traipse through St Kilda or Portland, on the radio or read it, I savour, delight and relish the spoken and written word. From the streetwise argot and slang that laps, titillates and amuses my ear, the fun I have with txt’ing (ha, autocorrect frowns at me on that one) to the cadence, lilt and inflection of a well translated Umberto Eco tome it delights me to no end. It is my mistress and I am its lover of sorts and I love how she transmogrifies, eludes, transforms, grows and flows. I enjoy as Barthes wrote, le texte plaisir, the joy of text, of words whether they be written or spoken.

This love affair with language started at a young age, probably when I was allowed to run free, unsupervised in the local library. There was no epiphanic moment when I thought ‘OMG I love words!’, no it was more of a miasmatic affair. As I moved down each carrel I felt surrounded not by a secret knowledge but by language; from the 000’s to the 999.9’s the Dewey Decimal System of non-fiction to the A-Z’s of literature I was slowly and am still happily enslaved.

The lyrical beauty of language slowly entered my being without my even realising it and proceeded to hang its hat, coat and keys in the hallway before I knew it. It was staying. And frankly it was and still is a wonderful addition to my life.

In the 1740’s Samuel Johnson, a brilliantly prolific scholar had similar ideas, feeling that the dialect, slang and the intrusion of non-English words were going to destroy its purity. Therefore in all good faith he decided that the aim of his, the first real dictionary of English, was to ‘fix’ the language. A strange undertaking for to fix it would be to render it a language that would become an immutable, inflexible thing. If he somehow had his way we would still be speaking in the same dialect of the time. Luckily for English speakers it did not. Think of it. Newer things would not have words. As preposterous as trying to herd cats.

Yet still to this day I read and hear the bleatings of proscriptive grammarians and corrective structuralists who in my mind look at language and words in a cold scientific way. There are still a vocal minority who somehow don’t seem to realise (or refuse to) that language is the net we use to capture our experiences and relate it to others. Ahh, be off with them! One thinks that by this stage they would recognise that language cannot be captured and herded into standardised form, much like King Canute thought he could hold back the advancing tide.

I say use your language with insightfulness, cadence, light and darkness. Let  words fly from your lips in whatever context you use them and always be on the lookout for new words and new forms of relaying ideas. Be crisp or curt with them or prolix and verbose. Play with them and let them play with you. Marinade your dialogue in silliness and clarity and season your text with colour and profundity.

But above all nurture, love and live inside of it. Listen with open mind those around you and take delectable aural bites of the words around you; and share it with those close to you. You will be using and enjoying one of the most enjoyable (and free) things in life.

Writing, or for that matter speaking isn’t about learning restrictively correct grammar. It’s about learning to find delight and pleasure in language, especially when you push it outside of conventional strictures. So relish and use it in all its variegated and playful forms and steer clear of traditional, rigid and notional codes. Do so and you will have a companion that will serve you well throughout your life.

“Language is my whore, my mistress, my wife, my pen-friend, my check-out girl.” – Stephen Fry


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