A lot of meaning in few words

I have quite a list. And yes, it’s to Port (and not because of it, or not entirely anyway). And yes, there is something sinister about this. Its a bastard, because I got it from a sinister bar… But fortunately I picked up a bag of gold bricks which have me on an even keel again, and so I can put off making sure that nothing on my list of words will be missed or fog-gotten.

Ahem. That’s enough silly games with the English language. I am vaguely comforted by the fact that the various Scandinavian cultures liked playing with their language too (via ‘kennings’, particularly) as well as raiding, looting rapine pillage and arson, all fine traditional Viking pastimes, widely admired and respected at the time, and likewise in almost every human cultureat some stage, in between some perfectly respectable trading and less respectable consumption of fly agaric (the little red and white spotted mushrooms, which are thought to have played a role in Viking ‘berserks’). So did the noble Roman patricians who could not ask you to pass the salt without a play on words and quote from Ovid. You’re going to find the same – if you go looking – in a number of disparate cultures and geographical locales.

In other words, humans, despite some externals, have more commonalities than differences, even though they may have not derived this from each other. Rather like four-sided step pyramids in Meso-America and in Egypt (No I don’t believe that the aliens taught them both or that the wise sailors of antiquity – according at least one set of creative tales, being blond and another black Africans, in both cases, not something we see much genetic evidence of, but people believe the aliens too). If you’re going to build a big stone structure, it’s quite a probable choice. If you’re going to look at human cultures it is very probable they will play on words, on shared history, on shared stories, on shared myth to make words carry more than their fair share of just one meaning. It’s kind of what makes us human. And making lists. All humans make lists.

Sometimes, obviously, this word-baggage is misused (usually to everyone’s detriment) – countries claiming to be the People’s Democratic Republics spring to mind. The words develop a ‘kenning’ where people who know the culture and language understand they mean neither democratic nor republic and belong exactly one ‘people’ – and can thence evolve into terms of derision – which is a bit rough on real democracies and republics, let alone people. This false sales-pitch trading on the ‘good baggage’ of a term, inevitably backfires – but also inevitably causes collateral damage to people people and cultures who don’t know the ‘kenning’. ‘Liberal’ being a classic example. Here’s a clue. It doesn’t mean the same thing in the US as it does in Australia. At all.

Frankly, it is something that needs to be treated with the derision it deserves, because it makes all of us poorer – even the ‘thieves’ who misused it for their own short-term gain. Like destroying statues – be they the Bamiyan Buddhas or confederate generals, or burning books, or removing bits of an education that once spanned generations — that is taking away our ability to use what inevitably was powerful set of baggage, because once it has gone, whether you liked it or loathed it, it is lost and its associations are lost too.

And no. Contrary to belief, that ground is not simply ‘replaced’ by the current narrative. These sets of multiple meanings and associations are built over many generations. It’s layered and complex. They bring far more than the words merely carry. That shapes the way we think, and what we CAN think, and most importantly widen the range across which we can think – which in turn leads to what we can create. Do away with that and what we can create goes back to the simplest and most un-layered. Books become Janet and John and See Spot Run.

But then, there are people who want that. They look to their short-term benefit, and not the long term collateral damage – which we know hurts everyone – them too. Bluntly, they have kangaroos loose in their top paddock, they’re a few pence short of a pound, they’re a few sandwiches short of a picnic, a few chapattis short of a thali, and are short of a sheet of bark.

Let’s fight back in our books.

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

26 comments

  1. You forgot “an enchilada short of a combo plate*,” to show how local customs shape expression. 🙂

    I was musing about the statues, and about Clio, and the associated meanings and culture. The statues also signify that one can respect an honorable foe. He may have been in the wrong, and I might disagree vehemently with some of the ideas that he’s fighting for, but I can respect his skills and basic decency (if he has it.) And in some cases respect what he does after the war/conflict has ended. Damnatio memoria denies that, and makes the individual nothing but one aspect of his beliefs. It flattens the person, for lack of a better term, and encourages the idea that one must hate the thinker as well as the idea or cause. That way lies madness, and disaster.

    *Locally, Tex-Mex combination plates are usually a taco, enchilada, and burrito or flauta or a small chili relleno. (If there is such a thing as a small chili rellleno.)

    1. And tolerating the Damnatio Memoriae against historical figures when done by and on behalf of modern politicians at least as ‘sinful’ means that they have to then escalate things to order to ‘avoid’ having it turned on them. So, giving in to ‘promote racial healing’ has in fact made the political divisions worse, when instead we might have jerked the politicians up short before they got us into the current mess.

      Obnoxiously stubborn, in fact, was the correct behavior for a peaceful consensus.

    2. A few french fries short of a Happy Meal
      Short Bus Special
      A few bulbs short of a Display/Marquee (v not the brightest bulb in the display/marquee)

      I’ll leave the rest hanging

    3. It should be noted that a lot of these guys were, in fact, tremendous jerks after the war, and never regretted any of it. And a lot of the ones who weren’t didn’t get monuments for a long time (it wasn’t until 1998 that James Longstreet got one at Gettysburg).

      1. True.

        But definitely some of establishment conservative spokesmen pointing out that person x on state property was a fairly vile person were quiet on such even handed matching proposals as removing the Kennedy ‘Eternal Flame’ memorial from Arlington.

        It was also fundamentally the processes and motivations that were part of the problem. a) Some of the organizations pushing removals were communists, and their motivation was denying Americans their history. Very much a ‘first they came for’ thing. b) Removing artifacts with violence was not a correct process. c) With what we now know of Democrat scheming in the background, the processes where opposition meekly folded, or somehow had no purchase, are a little suspect.

        We didn’t stop them from removing the statues, and they really did get to where they were burning people last summer. I think it may be fair to say that the moderns pushing the removal are every bit as evil, every bit as racist, and every bit as objectively white supremacist as the worst of the people who had statues put up of them.

  2. If you’re going to build a big stone structure, it’s quite a probable choice.

    *points at her kids’ block sets, the hay stack, and “I need these cups to dry but don’t have acres of counter space”*

  3. News reporting sure seems like “playing with words”,,,,

    “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'”

  4. The language a culture speaks shapes its thoughts. Can some thoughts be translated easily? Can some thoughts even be thought with ease?
    Since I only use English (my high school Latin is long gone), I’ve no idea how other languages handle pronouns or tense but I’m sure they’re different. Just attaching gender to verbs and nouns is weird.

    The table is feminine but the legs are male? Really?

    I remember trying to make a joke to my mother (German) about neutering our tomcat. She insisted the cat remained Der Kater and not Das Kater, which is what he was after the surgery.

    The cat still roamed at night, but he went out as a consultant.

    1. Always remember no matter how kind you may happen to be, German children are kinder.

  5. The other extreme is, of course, to cloak very little meaning in many words; the bigger and more obscure, the better. Cervantes was a prophet, except that if Don Quixote had been reading modern literary criticism, philosophy, or political commentary at school instead of medieval romance at home, his resulting insanity would be more credible.

      1. My appologies friends, one of my buttons has been pushed. [rant mode activate]
        My darkest hatred is reserved for the circumlocutions demanded of medical professionals. The current winner is “differently abled.”

        Not “crippled”, not “disabled”, not even “challenged” which was my previous winner (because how “challenged” are we talking here? Hangnail? Spinal cord injury? It’s not a challenge, it’s a f-ing catastrophic and permanent loss of function. Dealing with lying idiots who call that a “challenge” is the real challenge).

        But “differently abled” is a whole new level of bullshit. For one thing, “abled” is not a word in the English language. Things and people are not “abled.” It is not a freaking verb. But more than that, it is a heinous lie. An injury or condition that removes function does not come with different abilities which should be celebrated. It only ever removes ability. It makes you less able.

        The job of medical professionals is to find the thing that caused the loss of function, the source of “disability” if you will, and either fix it, mitigate it or compensate for it and get that person back to the highest level of function they can reach. Full recovery is the goal, but there are times when regaining the ability to steer the power wheelchair is a huge win. Seriously, a life-changing achievement. Lives are literally changed. Managing the bathroom without help is another life-changing achievement.

        It’s been a few years now, so “differently abled” may have joined “crippled” under the Newspeak bus. I’m sure whatever the current approved circumlocution is, it is an even bigger, stupider lie.

        [Here endeth the rant]

        1. At my other, regular online spot, one of our regulars (she has a traumatic brain injury) refers to this kind of talk as “pity porn”.

          It’s a way of othering, invokes a magic talisman that ‘I’ll never be like that as long as I say the right things’, and only applies to certain, acceptable handicaps that ‘look nice’ with forever young, brave, photogenic individuals.

          A ‘bad’, non-photogenic handicap gets swept under the rug and ignored.

          1. There are some -very- unwholesome tendencies you see in these pediatric “helping” organizations sometimes. One of them is how organizations seem to be happy to give all the help in the world until the kid is 18, and then they’re cut off.

            Funding, you know. Over 18, they don’t get that sweet, sweet government money and have to fundraise on their own. Fundraising is work, they don’t want to do it.

            “Pity porn” is a good term as well, that’s another one I’ve seen quite often. People who associate with the disabled so everyone can see how noble and moral they are. And yes, they seem to never be found next to the ones who have the non-photogenic injuries. One of my patients from ancient times told me he used to drool deliberately and act weird when the Pity People came around. Hated ’em.

            1. Exactly. If you don’t fit the image, you don’t exist.
              If you make other people uncomfortable, you really don’t exist.
              If behavior is bad or disconcerting, you truly don’t exist.
              If you’ll cost serious money with no available government teat, you never existed at all, no matter what happened in the past. Nor does your family exist.

  6. C.S. Lewis’s Studies in Words is good. It documents loss of meaning even by accident. It’s sobering.

  7. “Let’s fight back in our books.”

    Oh yes, let’s definitely do that. One of the things about modern writing that makes it BORING is the vocabulary. There’s an active force in publishing making that so as well, the notion that all readers failed highschool and if you don’t dumb everything down for them they won’t buy your book.

    Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw the word “perambulate?” Or even “soaring?”

    Therefore, although I don’t go to the extremes that John C. Wright does to dig out obscure terminology, I have been known to write things like “obscure terminology” in a sentence. And I shall so continue. Because F- Newspeak.

    And I shall continue to start sentences with “and” as well. >:D

  8. I basically agree, but I’m not about to start singing paeans to dawn and her long, rosy fingers. I have other windmills to tilt at.

    BTW: For some reason, WordPress (or my browser) insists that a gravitar link is my URL and I’m sick of fixing it, so the links under my name are broken.

    1. WP Delenda and so on. There are some blogs that WP won’t acknowledge me on, and some where it’s intermittent. ‘Tis a mess.

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