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.