Posted by: Dahni | February 22, 2008

Words

Words

I must confess that I did not know what the word ‘bling’ meant and that people laughed at me when I asked. Many of the same people looked at me with that deer in the headlights look when I said, “It’s time to Rock N’ Roll.” I still do not know what the present word or words or phrase now is that is used to emphasize let’s hurry up and get going.  

I was terrible in school with vocabulary and with spelling until one day I learned some Greek, specifically Greek prepositions and discovered the Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language.  I was and remain amazed at how many of our words have come from ancient Greek. To this day after now well over 30 years, I still read the Unabridged Dictionary just for fun and refer to it when choosing words. The Unabridged Dictionary traces the origins of words instead of how they may be currently employed or as is the often case, corrupted.

In my small mind I came to understand that if you and I cannot understand one another by the words we speak or write, then language becomes useless as a tool for communication. We might as well be considered foreign to one another as if we were speaking or writing a different language to each other. I think that is rude. If I was going to another country, I need to learn the language or at least try.

In this country the primary language is English. We should all speak and write English. Now I am not singling out foreigners living in this country, I am primarily writing about English and those that portend to speak it and write it. Within this country and within the English language there are so many dialects, accents and cultures, it often sounds and reads to me like completely different languages. We might as well then adopt some caveman, cavewoman guttural speech of something like uh, ooh etc. to communicate with. Even in the high tech world they appear to have their own sub-culture and language. Gangs have another. People in the south, people in the north, people in the west, people in the Midwest, races, creeds, and on an on, all have their own unique variations of what is supposed to be English.

Still, we people that are in contact with one another, from time to time, desire and or need to communicate. Communication can be used to convey emotion, ideas, humor and entertainment and it can be used to impart information. Information or knowledge would therefore be in the category of education. The purpose of education is (or should be); to communicate in such a way that everyone can understand. I mean everyone from the greatest mind to the smallest child. The vehicle of education is language whether it is in one, several or all of the following: visual, audible, by smell, taste and touch. The success of education to all, can only be accomplished by simplicity of presentation. This is how every one of the unique and separate intellects may all learn together.

Years ago there was the one room school house. It may have had several grades all learning together. The older students often helped the younger students and this was a highly effective way for all to learn. The teacher challenged the older students with more ‘meaty’ materials and these same students developed a command of the information by teaching it themselves to others. The younger ones grew from having been exposed to the knowledge of the older students. There was however a single page for them all to be on. This page was language.

I am neither a prude nor do I live in a cave. I have enjoyed and used generational words and phrases as most people have or do like: ‘far out,’ “awesome” “wicked” and “bad” (both of those words meaning good or something exciting). As a Bible, Torah, Koran or some other religious book would be the manual for our perspective faith, what about language? Again, in this country our language is English. English as any language is made up of words. Words form phrases, sentences, paragraphs pages and so on. What is the source or the center of reference for our words?

When we are children we learn primarily from our parents, then perhaps siblings and other relatives. Next, it is off to school and there we learn from mostly one or a few teachers through elementary school and of course our friends. As we get older, we discover more centers of reference. College can often really be confusing as sometimes we will find several professors each with their own point of view that contradicts the others and even on the same subject!

My little brain thought if we could just check the words and their meanings and their origins, much confusion would be eliminated. I had what I thought was an incredible opportunity to ask this very question to whom I thought was an expert in the field of language.

Around 1997 I believe, I was in the state of Arkansas. I had the opportunity to attend a seminar somewhere in Fayetteville, Arkansas on or near the University of Arkansas if I’m not mistaken.

The seminar was presented by Suzette Haden Elgin, PhD. Dr. Elgin is a well known a best selling author of ‘The verbal Art of Self-Defense’ among others, a writer, artist, linguist, and poet. The lady was brilliant and gave a very heady and intellectual presentation. I wished I had brought my dictionary just to look up many of the words she used, but I did take notes.

There must have been nearly a hundred of people attending. As my manner is, I try to sit in the front of the room. I used to joke that I had to be within spitting distance of the speaker. I don’t know, maybe I thought I could absorb more by being closer?

At the end of her talk she opened the floor for questions. I was excited! This woman, this brilliant woman, a linguist by training and degree studied the origins of language. Surely she could answer my question authoritatively!

I raised my hand and formulated my question.

Dr. Elgin I began, if language can separate us and bring us together, why not use the Unabridged Dictionary as a one source for the meaning of words, so that we are all on the same page, rather than go our own way with whatever words and their often different meanings as are used currently?

There was a moment of silence in the auditorium. Everyone seemed to look towards Dr. Elgin for not only her answer, but as to how they should feel or what they should think about my question. Dr. Elgin turned towards me, but answered while looking over me and out towards the audience.

“You are going to live a very lonely life,” she said with a huge grin. The entire audience erupted into thunderous laughter.

Gee, now that was a tremendous example of the gentle art of verbal abuse. Did she perceive me to be abusive or did she just dismiss my question and elevate her position in putting me down?

Personally I was not embarrassed by this, I was a little angry, but mostly I felt sorry for this woman. Her much learning had so filled her huge brain; she had no room for any common sense. She was so smart that she was dumber than dirt. She was an idiot. Now unless you think I am being reactionary or condescending, understand the meaning of the word ‘idiot,’ as it originated from ancient Greek, which by the way I found from the stupid Unabridged Dictionary.

The root of idiot is the Greek word idios which simply means, ‘one’s own.’ Dr. Elgin had spent years in developing her beliefs and systems and her way of thinking until it became her own, her manner of life and living. She has made much of her living from the study of linguistics and the publication of books and materials, seminars etc. on the subject. Like the author of the ‘Chicken Soup’ series, Dr. Elgin’s books usually have something to do with ‘verbal abuse’ in the titles. I guess what works, works.

Now I have no problem with using current words in conversation or in writing, but only IF everyone understands the meaning behind the words. I mentioned the word idiot above and today, most of us think an idiot is a stupid person. Now I can understand how the word has come to be associated with stupidity, but only because I understand the origin of the word, which again, I got from the Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. If something is ‘one’s own,’ then it is implied that it is different from everyone else. We have a sense of the majority rules so therefore anyone or anything outside of the majority must be different, wrong or stupid. But what if the idiot was right with what they made ‘their own,’ and everyone else was wrong? Who then would be stupid? Just so you understand my meaning, someone that is ignorant just has not been taught or taught properly; correctly. Someone that is stupid refuses to change their mind even after they have been taught properly; correctly. Now how would you know if what I just wrote is true or not? I dunno’ (don’t know), maybe check it out in an Unabridged Dictionary?

The problem with slang or street speech is that unless you know the meanings of the words used, you would not understand the words. The problem with this is that it becomes unique to the separate groups of people. Instead of language being used to unite people it separates us or suggests we join some group so we can understand them at the expense of everyone else.

Now just imagine you are an alien (the kind from another country not another planet). You have studied English so that you can communicate with others. Your very first conversation heard goes something like this…

What’s up dog, me and my old lady were in our crib looking at some bling, when I hears this noise. I opens’ the door and he’s freaking with this bitch from the hood right on our stoop.

How about this scene?

I’z’ (I’m), fixing to start to commence to git (get), ready to go to the Piggly Wiggly (southern grocery store chain). My diddy (daddy), couldn’t take me so Iza’ (I’m), gonna’ (going to), go by myself to git er’ (get it), done.

Or try this one…

My blue tooth won’t transfer the data because the hard drive from the server crashed due to some hacker that caused denial of service with an implanted worm or Trojan. I tried to IM and text my ISP, but someone stuck a ghost in that app (application), and now my Email is full of spam, my CD drawar thinks it’s a cup holder, and there’s pixels jumping all over my mon (monitor).

The only way you would understand ANY of the above scenarios would be if someone explained the meaning of the words. A dictionary (current and up to date dictionary), would define the words, but most likely not the context from which they came.

In almost everything else in life we have standards with the exception of perhaps the English language as it relates to our American experience. New words are being added all the time, new phrases and new meanings. I do not have a problem with this per se as long as everyone understands the meanings of the words and we are all on the same page.

You can have a jar of peanut butter and label it split pea soup, but this does not change the content does it? We can even change meanings of words. We could call light dark and dark light. You can also sail to the edge of the earth and fall off too, right? Just because everyone else does, says, writes or communicates something, does not necessarily make it right. Just because highly intelligent people like Dr. Elgin use big words and talk over your head, belittle you and everyone laughs at you, does not mean they are smart. If they were really smart, even I could understand what they are or were talking about. But like I said, she and others like her are mentally muscle bound idiots.

For me, I’ll stick to the Unabridged Dictionary and primarily use words as they were originally used and use words that hopefully everyone can understand.

Just Imagine,

Dahni


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