30 December 2009

Dichotomy of Language

As a people, we enjoy classification. Look at our music: alternative, rock, hip-hop, r&b, reggae, classical, pop, etc. Each of those can then be broken down into sub-genres like hard rock, classic rock, new rock & pop rock.

Unlike music, other areas of life that are, in fact, more complicated than a string of notes and chords are classified much more succinctly.

We talk a lot about black and white but very little about the infinite shades of grey in between.

Your gender is male or female; if you have aspects of both, you are a girlie man or a tomboy.

The news speaks much of the rich and the poor, democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives.

Why do we talk this way? Authors of The Story of English Robert McCrum, William Cran & Robert MacNeil write, 'Of all the world's languages (which now number some 2,700), it is arguably the richest in vocabulary.' They list the number of words in English as over one million. (This is unique words, not counting various verb tenses or word forms.) Within this number are over half a million technical and scientific terms, which leaves 500,000 words that aren't specialized. (Neither do they count words of slang, having gathered their number from the Oxford English Dictionary, which does not catalogue the newest slang.)

We have the words. There is no need to speak in dichotomy, yet we are trapped by the language that surrounds us.

The real problem with this dichotomy is not that it limits how effectively we communicate, but how it creates the mentality that it is Us versus Them. 'If i am a male, then i must not display any feminine traits or i will be seen as less than a man and a traitor to all men.'

Not everything is a war and can be described as Us vs. Them. When we focus so much on what we belong to and what other people don't, or what makes each of us different from the people around us, we lose something. We lose the ability to interact with them fairly, without any prejudice.

I think this is especially damaging in the Church. What Paul describes as the Body of Christ should display unity and be less concerned with whether or not each individual subscribes to a certain and specific viewpoint.

Look how we describe ourselves. We are the Saved; the world is Lost.

Saved vs. Lost (The ultimate brawl will happen Sunday night on Pay Per View! Tune in or be left in the dark!)

When did our battle become with the people we are attempting to show the Light?

17 December 2009

Speaking of the Trinity

As a people, as followers of God, we believe that God is represented by three distinct beings, even as those three beings are still manifestations of a single entity, YHWH. The three personalities of God, if i may describe this idea as such, are the Father, Jesus, & the Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, as it were.

As believers, this is part of our doctrine. It's my understanding that doctrine exists with purpose. If you believe eggs are divine symbols of purity, wholeness and the direct inspiration of God, then eating them would either be a religious experience or sacrilege. Denny's would either be your temple or your den of iniquity. There cannot be an in between.

So why do we have this view that author and speaker Phyllis Tickle talks of as 'an upside-down triangle?' Check out the image to the right. That's the typical representation of the concept we call the Trinity. Image if it were flipped, to have two spokes on top and one, the Spirit, seeming to trickle from the other two. As Tickle puts it, 'It wasn't long before it became God the Father gave rise to God the Son, who gave rise to God the Holy Spirit, a kind of totem pole or hierarchy in which the Spirit mattered less than did the other two.'

This is reflected in our prayers.

Think back. When did you last pray to 'God' or 'Father' or 'Jesus'? Now, when was the last time the Spirit entered your prayers?

In theory, God is three in One: Father, Son, Spirit. In our language and how we talk about them, they are Father, then Son, then Spirit.

What if, instead, when we talked about God, we used the name appropriate to the conversation.

If you think about your life, your every day life amongst friends and colleagues, you talk with people and refer to them with the appropriate title, the correct name for the occasion. Not having ever met him, it would be ill-advised to greet the President with a hearty 'Barry! Nice to meet you.' Instead, we address him as either Mr. President or President Obama.

Let's look at another example: My friend Tim is an athlete as well as a gamer. If i asked him 'As a gamer, what would you recommend to help me get into shape,' i'm attempting humor. However, if i ask him the same question as an athlete, it becomes an honest question.

In the same manner, when addressing God, or speaking of God, we need to attribute the qualities we speak of to the proper aspect of his character. In coming to an understanding about this, i realized i know very little about the difference between the three persons. Obviously, Jesus saves. Further thinking came up with the Spirit acting as the empowering aspect of God. The Father, well, the Father is the provider, right?

We need to know who it is we speak to. We need to know more about our God and who he is, and we must use that knowledge to direct our language.

19 November 2009


In 2007, a medical student filed a lawsuit against the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The suit centered around his harassment and subsequent suspension for using the term 'white African American' as a description of himself. Being a native of Mozambique, the only country which shares coastline with Madagascar, he is rightfully and honestly African American, as he has a naturalized citizenship in this country of ours.

Why would people be upset over a man calling himself 'white African American'? Even if he called himself 'African American' without the skin color disclaimer, why is that wrong? He is truthfully and honestly describing himself, probably more accurately than most people who call themselves 'African American.'

Titles we give ourselves, titles like 'African American,' are supposed to be informative, giving information concerning ancestry or ethnic background. With Paulo Serodio, the 'white African American' student in the lawsuit, it accurately describes his ethnic background, his continent of origin, and his current citizenship.

An article on ABCNews.com states Serodio was informed by his professor that his use of the term African American 'was offensive to others and to people of color.'

This is the problem we have put on ourselves through our use of language. Because we have been and still are such a race-central society, sections of our language have been formed around ideas that are now shown to be fallacies. Even the concept of race is false.

The only race any of us share with another human being is that of being human. The idea of race is that being of African origin makes you distinctly different than Asiatic or European or any other typecast. Biologically, we have seen this debunked time after time. What we call race is simply ethnicity. Where race is seen as biological, ethnicity is centered around the sociological.

Unfortunately, when we get in conversations of this type, we have no terminology to talk about individuals or groups except that which has been created around race. For those of African descent, we can refer to them as either 'black' or 'African American.' The first centers on the color of their skin, one of the central indicators of race. The second was a politically correct alternative. Yet it's still applied almost exclusively to those with darker skin, despite its open-ended meaning.

If we are to become a society where race is unimportant, so much so that we don't talk about it, only about ethnicity, we must first gain language. Without the appropriate words, we are left with no means of communication.

14 October 2009

Question the Question

'How are you?'

You may hear that question more than 12 times in a given day yet never answer it once. If you do answer it, odds are you were not honest in your answer. Even the honest answers don't seem to fully fulfill the request.

'How are you?'

We ask this to break the ice. We ask to feign interest. We ask without expecting a legitimate answer in return.

It is a question that requires no answer, yet it's not rhetorical.

If we are to take people at their word, this question does more harm than good.

When we talk about language and how it has lost meaning and been drained of strength or force, this phrase is at the top of the list. Originally, i'm sure people asked each other 'How are you doing today?' with such honesty that the answers they received matched their honesty.

Whatever happened in the interval, we now have a question that is rarely asked with honesty and even more rarely answered in the same way.

If what we say is to be taken as truth, if we are to be understood as honest individuals, we must discard this question except for those instances we intentionally ask it. Without intentionality, we are left only with the accidental. As one who does not want to live an accidental life, i do my best to ask people questions that mean something. When i want to greet you, i will greet, not insincerely inquire of your well-being.

Ask questions that matter.

Say what you mean.

Mean what you say.

They are not always the same.

29 September 2009


We so often attempt to seek after the things that are intangible. Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are part of our country's history, the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Love and beauty and truth are three more that seem to be embedded in the American Dream (another intangible).

The biggest problem with intangibles is how reliant they are upon language. When we talk about tangibles like water, trees, television & family, we have something to which we can point to act as a definition. Without anything physical to direct us, we are forced to rely strictly upon language to define the ideas of love, happiness and the rest.

Rising out of this conundrum is a glorious problem. The problem we run into is the diverse definitions that grow from single concept. It's glorious because it gives a greater perspective than one single person can achieve.

Take the idea of 'community'.

Last week, i went to a church that was discussing this, how to be a community to each other. They had looked at the second chapter of Acts the week previous, which talks about sharing everything in common and living lives together.

There is a new show in Thursdays titled 'Community' that plays on the concept of the community college. It's about a misfit study group of seven people who grow, humorously, into a small community.

There is a game on facebook called mousehunt. The developers constantly are talking about the mousehunt 'communitay', as one South African developer pronounces it. They are talking about those individuals who make friends with other hunters and share tips and advice on the game.

Every city has some sort of community center, where people can hold events, learn how to swim, or defend themselves, or take their toddlers during work. It's a center in service to the community, for its betterment.

Each of these holds some piece of a shared core idea.

The trouble comes when we communicate with one another, keeping our intangible idea stuck in our heads, immovable, and the person we're talking with has another perspective of that intangible idea. If neither of us is willing to bend our minds around the other person's perspective, the conversation will just become a frustrating exchange of words.

22 September 2009

Punctuate Properly? Er, Properly.

This will probably be the least popular blog entry i've written. Not even due to something cool like controversy. Instead, this will be the blog people read halfway through and don't want to finish. Why?

Nobody cares about punctuation.

Or should i say: Nobody cares about punctuation!

In school we first learn about end punctuation: the period (.), the question mark (?) and the exclamation point/mark (!). (The Brits call it a mark, which makes more sense to me since the point is the smallest part of the symbol.) Then we talk about middle punctuation like the comma (,) or the colon (:) or the semi-colon (;), but we got so bored during the first section, we didn't pay attention to the second.

We know how to use periods, question marks and exclamation points pretty effectively, even if we do tend to abuse the power of the exclamation. The rest of them we just do our best and hope we're right.

Sometimes, that's not good enough.

It wasn't until 1963 that the Michigan constitution corrected a punctuation error that drastically affected the meaning of the law, and slavery. For over 100 years it read 'Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crime, shall ever be tolerated in this state.'

It's easy to miss unless you look more closely. It says that both slavery and involuntary servitude are illegal, unless it's acted out as punishment for criminal activity. In 1963 they corrected the error, simply by moving the comma after 'law' to fit in after 'slavery.' That correction outright rejects slavery in all forms, but allows for involuntary servitude as long as it's an act of punishment for a crime.

A misplaced comma hijacked the sentence and changed the meaning of it, drastically.

Even a simple piece of punctuation that that isn't as complicated as a comma can throw things off course.

A shop in Dublin, Ireland was recently seen with a sign that read 'Were Open.' Imagine what a prospective hire would think if they walked by a similar sign that read 'Were Hiring.' Obviously they should have moved more quickly; they've missed out on the job!

The missing apostrophe changed a present action to something that has passed.

It's understandable that people don't know or use colons or semi-colons; they are confusing and you can get by without using them. They get more use in smileys than sentences. However, we can't get away with avoiding commas or apostrophes.

Here are some guidelines with both.

Likely Page Break

* Used to break up thoughts, like in this sentence. I can get away with cutting off everything after the comma without affecting the core meaning of the sentence.
* Sometimes that non-essential clause, the idea separated from the rest of the sentence by commas, lands in the middle of the sentence instead of the beginning or end. These two sentences, as well as the Michigan state constitution, are prime examples.
* Also, use them when listing items. If you have a comma phobia, you can lose the last comma (the one that goes before the word 'and') without confusing the reader or getting funny looks from people.
* Don't listen to people who say put a comma where you breathe. Those people are stupid.


* Show where a word is missing a few letters, either due to a contraction (don't comes from 'do not') or just due to the removal of one or more letters (pot o' gold, rock 'n' roll).
* Also shows possession (Bill's home). Remember, if you can flip it around to say 'home of Bill' it should be a possessive apostrophe.
* There is a distinct difference between its and it's. This is the one possessive that doesn't have an apostrophe. Read it's as 'it is' in your head to keep the two separate.
* Single apostrophes can also be used as quote marks in place of the American English standard of quotation marks (or double apostrophes). In England, the single quote is the standard. (I use the single because i think it helps the page look cleaner.)
* Not to be used when making an acronym plural (DVDs is correct; DVD's is not; remember, they aren't owning anything and there are no letters missing).

Now that you have a few guidelines for the comma and the apostrophe, maybe it's finally time to figure out when to use that semi-colon; or not.

14 September 2009

A Church By Any Other Name

As followers of God, we have a fascination with interesting names for our houses of worship and prayer.

We forget that a name is powerful. God renamed Abram, Jacob & Saul when they began journeys for God. The prophet Hosea gave his children names based on the Lord's instruction. The boy Jezreel was a reminder of their sins against that city. Lo-Ruhamah translates to 'not loved,' & Lo-Ammi means 'not my people,' names that reflected God's attitude toward Israel.

I always seem to come back to her, but that's only because of how much truth she wrote. In Walking On Water, Madeleine L'Engle wrote, 'Our names are part of our wholeness.' The same holds true not just for people but for locations, like Church.

So if the name is so important, why do we name our churches such oddities as 'Warehouse 424,' 'First Baptist Church,' 'First Church of God,' or 'The Christian Center?' (All of those are actual names of churches.)

Those four names aren't even the worst i've come across; however, they are the easiest to poke fun at in an illustrative way.

I've grown up knowing about the various First Baptist Churches of the world. I've never really understood what it meant to call your church the First Baptist Church. It seems we need to be seen as winners. It can get confusing, though. If you live in Houston and someone says they go to FBC, do they mean Houston's First Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Houston, Greater First Baptist Church or plain ol' First Baptist Church? What does it mean to be the FIRST Baptist church in an area? Does it matter? Why is there more than one? We should find the absolute first Baptist church and give the name to them, all the while making the other First Baptists the world over change their names.

(There is a Second Baptist Church. It, too, is located in Houston.)

If it's arrogant to call yourself First Baptist Church, what does it mean when you are First Church of God? Unless you can count the heritage of your church body back to Abraham, or Adam, or even Jacob/Israel, then i'm not sure you can call yourself by this name. It gives you this sense of importance that other churches can never acquire.

The trendy thing now is to not even mention church in your church name. It's as if you can trick people into coming if you call yourself 'Warehouse 424' or some other name that sounds equally cool on a clothing store or a night club.

The worst, i think, is substituting 'church' with 'center.' Not only do you take out of the name this concept that's gone back thousands of years, but you make it sound like a one-stop shopping spree, but for Christians. I'm not sure if there is a membership fee, or if they manage to finally capture an accurate picture for their club cards, but Target is still ok in my book.

Why don't we spend more time thinking about the names and what they actually mean, as well as their impact on the populace? When we give all our churches the nondenominational moniker 'Community,' we need to back that up with some community impact.

The name should reflect who you are. If you want to be first, or most important, or biggest, then maybe we should let you be First Baptist or First Church. But if you want to show that you care about people and their growth with God, maybe something more akin to Disciples Church would be good.

08 September 2009

Spiritual Warfare for Dummies

I was talking with a roommate last week and he was telling me about his night at Cesar Chavez park in downtown Sacramento. He went there with friends to talk with individuals from the homeless population about Jesus, as well as give them sandwiches. When i asked him how it went, he responded with the classic phrase: 'It was spiritual warfare.'

I don't like this phrase.

I don't think i've ever used it.

The reason i never use it is how inexact it is. I had to ask him to clarify what he meant by 'spiritual warfare' because i had no clue what he meant.

I knew what he meant in the very broad sense. But i asked for a picture of his evening and he painted one with rollers. I got the mood of the night through his colors, but i had no idea what picture he was drawing.

He meant that they ran into some difficulty they knew to be from, or attributed to, Satan. But i still didn't know, until he explained, what his night was like.

Maybe 10 people signed up to talk to the homeless, but only 2 show up. It's spiritual warfare within the church that people don't act.

Maybe nobody was around. It's spiritual warfare not fulfilling the intent of the evening.

Maybe the conversations with the homeless were disheartening. It's spiritual warfare to run into discouragement.

Maybe they had people throw fruit at them. It's spiritual warfare to be physically attacked.

Maybe a person or two got sick while walking the park. It's spiritual warfare to be distracted from your mission.

What does 'spiritual warfare' describe? It should be a descriptor of a war between two sides, heaven and hell, with humanity caught in the middle. Instead, it describes any action that's working against you. It turns out, there was a woman they weren't even talking to that attempted to pull the conversation away from them and redirect it toward a tangential topic during a good conversation with a couple of guys.

I'm not saying that the woman wasn't directed to break into their conversation by some evil force. I don't know. That's another reason i don't use the term often; i am not adept at discerning when something is just broken people reacting in a broken world and when something is deliberately attempting to sabotage the working of good.

The reason i bring this up is that we, the Church, use this term too flippantly. If there is uncertainty about the source of the discouragement to the work, don't automatically attribute it to Satan and his minions. We are broken people all by ourselves. We can mess things up without his help.

When we do use the term 'spiritual warfare,' we need to ensure we back it up with specifics. 'Spiritual warfare' does not describe what happened. It may be accurate, but it's not precise. If my roommate asks me what i'm watching, and i say 'The television,' i get smacked on my head. It's accurate, but not precise. We need to not only mean what we say, but say what we mean.

20 August 2009

Sibylline Language

Firstly, i apologize to all my loyal readers (the 3 of you; hi Bri!) for the month-long wait for a new blog. I have been a little lazy, as well as focused a bit more on other venues. Honestly, i've also been a little lacking in ideas for this blog.

However, one came up this weekend, dropped in my lap, so to speak. I was at a wedding of a friend of mine and we were all waiting for those infernal wedding pictures to be done so we could start eating. In the meantime, we talked.

One couple i shared a table with got into a small argument about language, one it seems they have had before. It wasn't a heated argument, but the table did get a bit warm afterward. I tried to put forth my small bit, being a subject i enjoyed and was knowledgeable on, but it was really a private battle. So instead of sliding my input across the table, i'll give it to people who actually want to listen to me.

Or maybe i'm just writing into the dark.

I'm fine with that.

Basically, he was a stickler for proper language. His view was that double negatives, words like 'ain't' and 'dunno' aren't real words. Her view was that language changes, you can't stop it. She didn't see language as weakening over time, just changing. So those words and ways of speaking he was so against, she was all for because it is where language is going.

If you know me, or read this with any kind of regularity (hi again!) then you probably know what i'm going to say. If not, that's ok too; you'll soon find out.

In Walking on Water: Reflections of Faith and Art, Madeleine L'Engle, she talks about the updating of the Book of Common Prayer, specifically the language. The new book was written 'in the language of the people' but L'Engle asks 'Which people? And in language which is left after a century of war, all dwindled and shrivelled? Are we supposed to bring our language down to the lowest common denominator in order to be "meaningful"?'

The woman at the wedding was right. Language changes and it should change. Nature tells us that to remain stagnant is to die. The tree that doesn't grow new leaves each spring is the tree that dies. The vines that don't continue to reach heavenward are the vines that are dead or dying. So there is a necessity to change. Our language must change for it to survive.

Yet, to allow it to change indiscriminately is to allow it to die as well. It would be a much slower death, to be sure, but it would come. It would be the death of Cumaean Sybil.

In Greek mythology, Cumaean Sibyl was granted any wish by Apollo, if only she would sleep with him. She asked for eternal life, but then refused his request. In return, he granted her wish, but didn't give her eternal youth to go with it. She eventually became so old that she was resigned to live her life in a bottle so as not to fall to pieces.

Without a check against undo change, we will have a Sibylline language, one that works on the lowest common denominator but fails to reach heavenward.

It helps to understand that the spoken vocabulary is the smallest (the other three are, in order, written, listening & reading). Even still, that vocabulary is only as large as an individual allows it to be. The larger your working vocabulary, the more intelligent you sound, the better you are able to communicate.

There are a host of vocabulary enhancers online. Here are a few i've come across.

Vocab Games is a big childish, but it works.
Free Rice gives rice to those who need it for every answer you get correct. You learn, while helping people!
Over 30 Online Resources to help expand your vocabulary.

15 July 2009

How Do You Say...?

This past weekend, i went with Briana to her parents' house in Cottonwood, a handful of miles south of Redding. While we were there, we visited the Sundial Bridge. On the walk back to the car, a cute little girl on a bike asked us our names, like she had walked in on a pre-existing circle and wanted to be included. We told her, Briana and Mike, and proceeded to ask her what her name is, Emma. All of this happened without either of us stopping. We walked up to, past, and beyond little Emma on her bike as we had our introductions.

In the car, Briana commented that she wanted to make sure Emma and her little sister, also on a bike, weren't behind us as we backed out of the parking space. 'You don't want to run over someone you just met,' she said. In response, i made a smart comment, as is my wont to do. 'Cause, you know, if you run over a little kid you don't know, it's one thing, but to run over a kid who's name you know, it's another.'

It sounds horrible. It really does. I admit that i made a joke that says it's worse to run a child over in your car if you know that child's name. That implies it's better to hit the young one you don't know.

But look at it again. Everything that makes my joke funny (or morbidly obscene, depending on your sense of humor) is not in the words. It is perfectly legitimate to claim that running over an unknown child is different than running over one you know. There is no judgement that one is better than the other, just that they are different. It's not even denying that both are bad things and should be avoided.

What makes this a joke that can easily offend (and i'm sorry if it has) is that what is literally says is different than how it's said and what that implies.

Language is more than words on a page and their literal meanings. Each word plays off the next.

The man who answers 'Black' to the questions 'How do you like your coffee?,' 'What style iPod would you like?,' and 'What is your ethnicity?' is saying something different to each question, even if it is the same word. But that is because 'black has multiple definitions.

As well, how you say something makes a difference. You can say the sentence 'I wanna go to the zoo' a multitude of ways that all mean something different. Emphasize the word 'wanna,' you sound like a little kid who didn't do his chores. Emphasize 'zoo' and you are differentiating between choices. Each of these words can be emphasized and the sentence changes.

That doesn't even take into account tone of voice. When i said the bad joke this weekend, i used my facetious tone of voice. If it had been my serious voice, i would have said something different, even if the words were the same.

Language is more than the words you speak, or write. It is how you say what you say.

01 July 2009

New Words

There is a blog at The Guardian, a British newspaper, that talks about a new book, Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction.

The blog got me thinking. Language is a utility. It's a tool that allows us to communicate with one another effectively so that the thoughts we hold in our heads are able to be communicated with other people. It's one of the only ways in which we can effectively share what's inside us with all those outside us. Music and the visual arts work as well, but those take time to craft and create; the tools of language, words, have already been crafted for us, by us, to allow quick, easy and effective communication.

But if we lack the word for something, whether it is an object, and idea, an emotion or something else, we are left like the painter, needing to create from scratch the internal impression of the thing. Where there are no words, language begins to fail.

Some say you can tell how great an author is by how much they add to the English lexicon. John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, is credited with about 630 new English words, and William Shakespeare is given credit for over 1,700 new words. Some of the words Shakespeare is given the credit for include 'bloodstained,' 'eyeball,' 'farmhouse,' 'lackluster,' 'moonbeam,' and 'perplex.' He's also given credit for crafting phrases that have since become central to our language, phrases such as 'brave new world' (see above book title for appropriateness), 'all's well that ends well,' and 'the game is afoot' (despite what you might think about Sherlock Holmes' involvement with that one).

In some ways, it takes poetry to create new words. Good poetry, like that of Milton and Shakespeare, take new looks at old things, and in so doing often find it necessary to create a new word to describe this old thing.

The best science fiction does the same. George Orwell's 1984 take new looks at old ideas like imperialism, government control and the media. H.G. Wells' The Time Machine sees humanity and civilization in a new dichotomy.

Science fiction also allows for new ideas to be looked at in old ways. Isaac Asimov's I, Robot created a morality for robots which has guided them since in works across all media.

In all of these, new language was necessary to create the story, to describe things in such a way that we, the readers, can ask questions of ourselves. The three works listed above brought us 'time machine,' time travel,' and 'newspeak.' 'Robot' was brought in by a Czech play, translated from the word 'robota' meaning 'forced labor,' but Asimov did so much to further the word it might as well be credited to him.

With the constant evolution of language transforming and growing as our world transforms and grows, we are constantly in need of new words to describe our environment and experiences. Are there any new words you would want to input into the language to describe necessary inventions of the future, or just modern-day experiences that have gone unnamed, or ineffectively borrowed a name from something else? What new words would you coin?

18 June 2009

And God Breathed

I've had this idea for a while, and i've never had the chance, or the thought, to share it with other people. It very well might be heretical. Or it just might sound heretical. Or it might be entirely truth and give us greater insight into how God works in man.

It all stems from the passage in 2 Timothy: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)

This passage is often used to explain how the Bible is a coherent whole, through sixty-six books and forty separate authors. I would agree with that. If the guiding force behind all of the writings are the same, then there would be a solid presence behind every book that gives the Bible a solidity it couldn't gain anywhere else.

There are two interesting things going on in this passage that i think are glossed over by just taking it for the above truth and leaving it at that.

The first is in the wording. The word in the Greek that is translated here 'God-breathed' is the word theopneustos. The webpage i got this from listed a literal translation as 'divinely breathed in; given by inspiration of God.' That's pretty much what the NIV and other versions translate it as, but i needed to make sure, since this next point depends so much upon the meaning of that word.

The first time in Scripture we read about God breathing, or God breathing into something, was in the Garden of Eden when God breathed life into Adam, making life out of dust. So let's read 2 Timothy again, thinking about God breathing life into something that was once lifeless.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

What i see now is that without God breathing into the Scripture, it would be dead. I'm pretty sure this lines up with what the rest of the Bible says as well. So it's not simply that God inspired the Scripture, but God gives it life. Without God, they are just words on parchment strung together into coherent, but ultimately meaningless, sentences.

(Obviously, since they are different languages, there would be different words and phrases to talk about this, but i think even with the language gap, there is enough justification here.)

Now, my last thought is the most controversial. It has to do with God never resting on his laurels, if he had any.

If God never rests, if he's not the type of god to set things in motion and just watch them play out, if he's active and working in the world from its creation to its destruction, then i have a hard time saying Scripture, our Bible we have now, is the only literature that has been God-breathed. I would argue that there are other works that are God-breathed, given a sort of divine life that gives them power beyond their immediate words, power greater than any author can give a work on his own.

I think there are times, like the first century, when there are a greater concentration of works divinely inspired and given life. No other time in history has it been so critical to set down in writing what it means to follow God, to follow Jesus. The rule book was changing. They still followed the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, but it was now also the God of the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans.

I'm not up for debating which works are God-breathed, because i honestly don't know. And i don't think just because one work by an author is God-breathed, everything is, which is what makes Paul a such a heavyweight.

When i look at authors such as C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chestergon, Augustine, Mother Theresa, Oswald Chambers, D.L. Moody, A.W. Tozer, i see people who's writings have been used by God for amazing glory, writings that have taken on a life beyond that of the authors. I'm not just saying the writings outlived the author, but that the writings have grown bigger through time, not diminished or even stayed along the same plane of existence. I'm not saying all of their writings were God-breathed, or even that all of the authors wrote a single God-breathed work, but i find it hard to believe that not a single one of them wrote a work that was God-breathed.

What say you? Am i a heretic? Am i dead on target? If so, what authors or works would you say lean toward God-breathed, or are most definitely God-breathed?

04 June 2009

Nouns and Adjectives

I have a couple different issues with the word 'Christian,' but most of them are just aesthetic. I don't generally call myself a Christian because of all the baggage that goes along with that word. When i claim that title, sometimes people are more hung up on its association with the Crusades, anti-gay-marriage, anti-abortion, and religiosity than they are with knowing what it means to me. A title is there to describe a person, but when that title means something different to the one who bears it than those around him, it's a faulty title.

But i also take issue with the use of the word 'Christian' in the world around me. I know not everyone agrees with all of his teachings or his politics, but Rob Bell wrote something rather profound in his book Velvet Elvis. He said, 'Christian is a great noun and poor adjective.'

For those who fell asleep during English class and never knew, or cared to know, the different parts of speech and their use, here's a short primer. A noun is a person, a place, a thing, or an idea. If you can touch it or experience it, whatever *it* is, it's a noun. An adjective is any word used to describe that noun.

This is how it plays out. New York City is a noun, the name of a place. Yet, when it's taken word by word, not all three of them are nouns, even if collectively they are. 'New' is an adjective that modifies (describes) the noun 'York City.' Just as 'Blue Bonnet' brand spread is a noun, but 'blue' by itself is never a noun.

Some words cannot be made into nouns. Unless 'blue' is the name of a person or a place, it is not a noun. There is no object blue. You cannot experience blue or touch blue. You can touch blue paint or a blue wall, but you cannot touch blue itself. Same with 'new.' There is no 'new'.

Some words are amidexterious. Doctor, for instance. Acting on its own, the word 'doctor' is a noun; acting in conjunction with a name, or a place, it's an adjective.

And this is where Rob Bell's quote steps in. Like 'doctor,' 'Christian' is a label describing a group of people. Unlike 'doctor,' being a Christian is a way of life. It should impact every piece of your life, from sunrise to sunset, top to bottom, 360 degrees. It changes the way you view and interact with the world. It changes how you live your lives, even down to what you listen to, what you read, what you wear, and what you eat.

But to say that you listen to Christian music, read Christian novels, and wear Christian clothes should be as ridiculous as saying you eat Christian food.

For some unknown reason, we have made this word that describes us as people and our decision to follow in the footsteps of Christ and we use it to describe the things we fill our lives with. A Christian is one who follows God; a CD cannot follow God, so it cannot be Christian. Even a band cannot follow God. The individuals in the band can individually, and they can come together collectively, but to call them a Christian band should sound the same to our ears as saying a Christian church. There should be a small sense of redundancy there. Sure, there are churches that don't follow the teachings of Jesus, just as there are bands that don't, so we have felt the need to differentiate between the two.

But where does it stop? We describe them as Christian bands who make Christian music, so why do we not hear more about the Christian accountants who make Christian budgets? There must be something about the arts. Christian music, Christian movies, Christian novels, Christian paintings.

Hold on.

Christian paintings? Rembrandt isn't remembered as a Christian painter who painted Christian paintings, nor is Michelangelo a Christian sculptor. They are artists who created good art that we still admire today. Their faith informed their art, most certainly, but it did not define it.

We should not let our faith, our Christianity, define our art. It should no longer be Christian music/books/movies. Our faith should be an integral part of their formation, but placing a label on things when that label belongs on a person is only a way to convince yourself into thinking what you are creating is pleasing to God.

28 May 2009

No, It Isn't Ironic

I'm going to step away from writing to the Church. At least for one blog. (Notice i didn't say writing a Christian blog; that's a hint at what i'll tackle next week.)

Instead, i'm going to take on a word that many people use, but a select few know it well enough to use it correctly. Dave Eggers even goes to town on this word, saying how much he hates it because of its rampant disuse, and i have to agree with him, mostly. I don't hate the word, but it does grate me that it's so misused and overused.

The word in question is 'ironic.'

Irony is a very fickle thing. It doesn't pop its head up all that often, and when it does, it's a subtle thing. The purpose of irony is to show two things out of sync in such a way that it is funny. That is to say, one thing will come to pass in a way that is entirely contrary to how it should. A good example is one i ran into with my girlfriend, Briana. I was writing her a letter, and in the process i misspelled the word 'perfect.'

That's not ironic. What was ironic was that it was the only word in the letter than i messed up and had to scratch out and rewrite.

If that had happened to any other word, say, 'misspelled,' it would not have been ironic. Even if it was a misspelled 'misspelled;' that would have just been appropriate, but never ironic.

Let's take a look at Alanis Morissette's 'Isn't It Ironic.' It's an assortment of the many misuses of the word.

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day (That's just bad timing.)
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay (Gross, but not ironic.)
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late (Perfect example of bad timing, but not ironic.)
And isn't it ironic... don't you think

It's like rain on your wedding day (Bad Luck)
It's a free ride when you've already paid (Close, but not quite)
It's the good advice that you just didn't take (Poor choice, not ironic)
Who would've thought... it figures

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
"Well isn't this nice..." (Not ironic. Just bad luck.)
And isn't it ironic... don't you think



A traffic jam when you're already late (More bad luck)
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break (Just a poor choice of location)
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife (This is the closest we get, but still not there)
It's meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife (Unfortunate, but unfortunately not ironic)
And isn't it ironic...don't you think
A little too ironic...and, yeah, I really do think...

It may sound like i'm whining over semantics, but what it comes down to is the fact that the word 'irony' has a very specific meaning. When it is not used for that meaning, when it is tossed around and treated with disrespect, it grows weak. Irony is one of the deep humors, one of those things that when it appears can be both poignant and laughable. When we call something else by the name of Irony, it taints Irony's good name.

Help me bring back irony's usefulness by refusing to use it unless you know for certain it truly is ironic. Besides, you never know when there will be a Dave Eggers in the crowd who will tear you to pieces for using it wrong. Ahem, i mean, using it incorrectly.

20 May 2009


First, an apology. If the last post was too harsh in demeanor or tone, i'm sorry. I did not mean for it to be. As a member of the Church, it makes me sad to see us less than effective, only because we have failed to grow in our language. Just as a young child grows in language and moves from 'Da' to 'Daddy' to 'Dad,' so we should as we grow in our faith. As well, the Church as a collective should grow in language as we grow collectively. Even if we are 2000 years old, we can still grow, we still have things to learn. So our language should grow and expand with us.

But i don't see that happening. Instead, i see our language digging itself in, making a home in a place that was never intended to be permanent.

The ideas and thoughts we hold inside that are bursting with creativity and excitement and potential are wasted on language that can convey none of that. Everything starts to sound the same. What is new and growing gains the appearance of the old and wasted.

So if i sounded despondent or angry in the last blog, i apologize. It upsets me that we have come to this place of stagnation through language.

It's not just based on one phrase from the book of Job, either. That is just one example of a wider phenomenon. As any culture, or sub-culture, does, Christianity has its own sub-language. It's an inevitability that any culture will create words and phrases that have idiosyncratic meanings. Ask a gamer and a biologist what 'spawn' means, they will each answer according to the culture they are part of. The gamer will tell you it's being 'reborn' in a game, after you have died. You spawn at your last save point, or at a spawn point. The biologist will say it's about reproduction, particularly in large numbers.

Same word, different meanings, both centered around the culture of the individual. In the same sort of way, Christianity has gathered around itself idiosyncratic phrases and words that have different, or no, meaning outside of its borders.

It's a language i call Christianese, and we speak it subconsciously and freely among our own.

If we were to read as literal the phrases 'accept Jesus into your heart,' 'moved by the Spirit,' 'called,' 'walk with the Lord,' or 'placed on my heart,' we would find meanings that are far different from their use within Christianity.

I am not saying that all of these phrases are empty and worthless. There is some value to them, which is why they are in existence. Nothing exists that is useless. Yet, their value has dropped significantly since their inception because of their overuse.

To be 'called by God' is supposed to give this image of God waiting for you to follow after him. He has called after you, like a man calls after his son who has fallen behind on the trail. So God is waiting for you to join him someplace else. What it has turned into is the idea that God has taken specific interest in our lives. It's not that he doesn't love you too, but he called me specifically into this, so i have a special task or ministry or job that needs done. But this only applies to Christian ministry. You don't feel a calling into custodial management. You aren't called to be a starving artist. God doesn't call people to take out the trash every Thursday night.

See how ridiculous this can get? Even the beginning of that last sentence sounds funny. 'God doesn't call people....' Or its reverse, 'God calls people....' We are called by God? What's his number?

The problem i have with Christianese is how limiting it is. We cannot effectively explain our faith in the language of Christianese because we then have to explain the language we use to explain our faith. Language should open you up, allow you to explain what your thoughts are. If the language you are using needs to be explained to be understood, it is not doing the job it was made for. It fails.

12 May 2009

Church Language

I have a confession to make: one of the main reasons i started this blog was for the Church.

As a follower of God, and a member of this group called The Church that seeks to join together in seeking his Kingdom on earth, i find it disconcerting how much dead language thrives within the Church.

It is my belief that the Church should not be sequestered away from the rest of the world, sending emissaries to do the work of God, but not being active itself. The church should be getting its hands dirty, up to the elbows, working out the Kingdom in the world around.

More and more, the Church is doing so, except in the area of language.

The longer i'm involved in the Church, the more i run across language that has lost most, if not all, of its meaning, yet is still in regular use by the Church. The Church still uses language that has lost its heft, that no longer has weight. We tell people we believe in the one Truth, the true Love, and the great Redemption, then we give them empty language to talk about these things.

It's like the man who told his friend how special and important his computer was. He tells him how much work he can do on it, how necessary it is to his life, how much it has become part of his day-to-day activities. Then when he passes it over to his friend to see for himself, his friend discovers the computer that can seemingly do so much can no longer perform the basic tasks it once could. The hard drive is full. The processor has slowed down. The internet is dial-up. Even the fan is broken. The computer is simply overused.

That's not a condemnation against the computer for failing to live up to what it should be able to perform. It once could. But through simple use, the law of entropy is pushed into motion. Things fall apart. What once could speed you through a game of checkers in less than a minute takes longer than that to open a single web browser. Things fall apart as time moves on and they are used. That applies just as well to language in a kind of linguistic entropy.

If God is the center of life and regeneration and rejuvenation, then the Church should also be part of that. As such, our language should reflect our beliefs. Our language, the language we use to describe Life, should also be alive and full.

One of the great things about the Bible is how old the text is, even while retaining its relevance. The way it tears into the soul to reveal what it underneath transcends any era. The images used by the prophets and poets still hold their weight.

But there are sections that we have drained the use out of, in terms of imagery. Looking at age, not chronology, Job is the oldest book of the Bible. It was written before any others. Therefore, when the writer tells us Satan said that God had put 'a hedge around [Job] and his household,' it is one of the oldest phrases in Christianity (as well as Judaism).

So why does it persist today? It is not unusual to be praying over a friend who is about to take a journey, or a family going through hard times, and hear someone asking God to 'put a hedge of protection' around them. I understand the sentiment, but i think we, as the church, should retire this phrase. Or at least update it. We have things better than hedges now: they are called fences, or walls, even.

The idea that 'hedge of protection' represents--that of God's protection and safety during difficult or trying times--is a great one, but there are many other ways to say it. We shouldn't use the phrase, any phrase, just because it is a part of Scripture. Rather, we should use a phrase, any phrase, no matter it's origin, based on how it conveys the idea we want to express and how well it expresses it. A phrase older than Moses himself has lost much through linguistic entropy.

From here on, i will mostly be talking to the Church. There will be times when i switch back to something more universal, or even when what i talk about concerning the church is applicable elsewhere. But, for the most part, i want to see a change happen within the Church and how we use language. May it better reflect the life we have come to know by also being filled with life.

05 May 2009

Beauty and Truth

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

-John Keats

There is a church i pass quite frequently in my weekly travels. You see, it's along the route that i take when i travel south, to Elk Grove. If nothing else, i will pass it when i go to work and when i go to church. This church is one of those churches that are peppered across the country, the kind with the lighted sign out front with the weekly sayings. You know the ones. 'Eternity is a long time to be wrong.' 'Without Jesus, there would be hell to pay.' 'God answers knee-mail.'

I don't like these signs.

Their purpose is to at least get people thinking about God and at most come to church on Sundays and start following Christ. The three i wrote above came from the site One-Liners for Reaching the Lost. In all honesty, i have no clue how those are reaching people who don't know God. If i wasn't already a follower of God, a simple sign wouldn't pull me in or deter me from my way of life.

If i were the sign-guy, the one who recreates the sign each week, i wouldn't try to think up something catchy or something that rhymes. I would put up something simple each week, something like 'The Word became skin and bones to live a life alongside us,' or even 'On behalf of Christians worldwide: We're sorry.'

Instead, the sign outside the church i pass tends toward catchy or rhyming sentences. Last week's said, 'In prayer you lie to God if you don't rely on God.'

I have a problem with this. I also have a problem with the way we perceive language as well that ties in with this bad theology.

I call it bad theology because it tell us that every prayer must be the prayed with trust and reliance on God. Forget those prayers when you question God. Forget about the prayer on the cross when Jesus cries out 'My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?' I think the most honest prayer we can pray is the one that ends in a question mark. I also believe that my God is big enough to handle any of the crap i hold against him.

A couple years ago, i saw a video of a man wearing boxing gloves and shorts, getting into an argument with God as he boxed a sequoia. Every time he took a swipe at the tree, he'd yell at God for something. His doubt and his anger was his fuel, but eventually all of those burned up and he was left panting on the ground, squeaking out 'You win. You win.'

This is honesty. This is prayer. It's not that the only prayer worth praying is the one that relies on God; the only prayer worth praying is the honest prayer. If you don't rely on God, pray that. It's better than 10 insincere prayers that are reliant.

This small rant has a place in this blog about language. This is where my rant and language collide.

Most people acknowledge that OJ Simpson most likely was the murderer of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, even though the jury decided in his favor. (The civil court did not look as kindly upon him, deciding against him.) During the trial, back in the 90s, one of the defense attorneys, Johnny Cochran, famously said 'If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit.' He said it multiple times during the closing arguments. 'If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.'

I won't argue that this rhyme is the reason that Simpson got off. All i can argue is that when something is said or written in a catchy manner, a rhyme for example, people tend to listen closer and more quickly believe it to be true. If that weren't the case, Cochran wouldn't have used the rhyme to argue his case, pastors wouldn't start every point in their sermon with the letter 'J', and signs like the one i pass every week wouldn't work so hard to sound catchy.

You might say it simply makes things easier to remember if it has a certain poetry to it (rhyme, alliteration, etc.), and that's true. Yet, with how our memories work, the more we hear something, or remember something, the more likely we are to believe it as true. So the catchier something is, the more weight it carries on the truth scale.

We have degraded our language to a point that anything reasonable sounding that rhymes or alliterates holds a nugget of truth, no matter the actual merit of what's behind the words. We have forgotten to examine what is said under the microscope Truth and instead examined what is said under the lens of what is Beautiful, thinking them to be one and the same. They intersect, but they are not the same.

Truth is often ugly, that is why it is called 'brutal honesty.' What is beautiful and smooth sounding is not always true. Remember that, even if it doesn't rhyme.

Truth is a bitter friend.
-Nickel Creek

02 May 2009

New York Times Article

Seeking to Save the Planet, With a Thesaurus

The above is an article on the group ecoAmerica and their efforts to change the way environmentalism and global warming are talked about. It talks about some of the same things i've talked about here, but it also carries with it the idea that using different words to describe the same ideas (saying 'climate change' instead of 'global warming') is misleading and manipulative.

What are your thoughts on this? Would changing the words we use when we talk about global warming do anything meaningful? Would it get around people's preconceptions so we can arrive at an honest discussion?

27 April 2009

Failing 'Love' - Part 2

Last week, i wrote about how we overuse the word 'love' by using it for our closest relationships as well as for those everyday activities such as watching television or eating dinner. I find it intriguing that more people don't question our use of the word 'love.'

What does it say about our loved ones when we describe our food using the same word?

It all stems from our use of 'love.' We use this word so often and for so many ideas. This is lazy language, using words in a plug-n-play fashion. It's used to express an action as well as an emotion. I don't think it was ever designed to be an emotion.

Emotional words are used to describe a temporary state of being. For example, 'i am happy,' or 'she is unsettled,' or 'we are certain.' Those are all emotional states that are dictated by your state of mind and your surroundings.

When we assign love to as emotion, this demeans it, belittles it. It tells us love is dictated by our state of mind and surroundings.

This is a false love. Honest love is not dictated your state of mind.

Think about it this way: with your family, there are many times you do not like them, don't want to be around them, don't want love them; but you do love them, even during those hard moments when you don't actually like them. This is love, and it goes beyond emotion.

This is how love should work all over, not just with family. There will be times when i don't particularly like Briana, but i still choose to love her. Marriage is not an amusement park. Or maybe it is, but there are still those carnival games that are frustrating beyond belief, and the tilt-o-whirl still makes you hurl, and the crowds sometimes pack in too tight. There are still great times to be had, and the price of admission is worth it all, but it's not all rainbows and sunshine.

Love is like that. When we are at the amusement park at it's dirtiest, hottest, and we are feeling sick to our stomach, but we still choose to stay, that is love. Of course, it's an imperfect analogy. We don't stay just because we are there to enjoy ourselves. Love is more than enjoyment. If it were, it would be smack in the land of emotions.

Love is a choice. Love is choosing, daily, to fight for, not against. Love is choosing to take time to understand before jumping to conclusions. Love is choosing to follow, even when it means walking uphill.

I do realize there is a reason you choose to love one person over another. You love your family because they are part of who you are, they are your blood, part of your emotional and physical upbringing. You love your friends because of that initial and continual connection. You share likes and dislikes and experiences. You love your husband or wife (or, girlfriend or boyfriend) because, like your friends, you share likes and dislikes and experiences, as well as a common physical attraction.

This past weekend, i went to Mexican restaurant called Zócalo for a friend's birthday party. On the wall behind our table was a painting of two hearts joined with two words written at the top, and two at the bottom. At the top, one on each side, were the words 'pasión' and 'razón,' 'passion' and 'reason.' The bottom said 'amor puro,' which means 'pure love.' The purest love is this mixture of passion and reason.

Too often in our culture, we emphasize the passion without mention of the reason, due to our misuse of the word 'love.' If we had not taken it to mean something that is so emotional and experiential, but used it sparingly, or even developed more words for the varying degrees within the word, like the Greeks did, then we would be in a much better place.

Instead, we are left with a word that has been bleached. The original meaning and intent behind the word, its strength and power, they have all been weakened. This is one of those cautionary tales, because i don't think there is a way we can reverse course. As a culture, we have traveled so far away, used this word so thoroughly in every aspect of life, and divorced it from any sort of power that we cannot build it back up.

The only course of action i see taking place are on personal levels. We cannot affect the culture as a group until we take action individually. I, for one, decided to no longer use the word 'love' expect for the purposeful times it actually fits. No more loving pizza, or loving this kind of music. If it forces me to be more descriptive with my words, so be it. Love will be kept sacred in my personal use, to gain back some power. Feel free to join me in this effort.

20 April 2009

Failing 'Love' - Part 1

I have talked about it before, namely here and here, but i think there's still more to say about the destruction overuse and misuse causes to language.

Specifically, we overuse and misuse the word 'love.'

Think about it. This is the word vaunted at weddings, given center stage with bride and groom, used as a descriptor of their connection, as well as a reason for their decision.

Yet this is the same word we use when we talk about how much we enjoy eating pizza, or what that band makes us feel, or how a certain smell (napalm in the morning, maybe?) affects us.

Love is either more versatile than other words, or just overused.

I argue that it's overused. A monkey wrench is versatile, being able to work with bolts large and small equally well. The word 'love' does not work equally well with every use. It's obvious the difference between the 'I love you' said at the altar and the 'I love it' said at the movie premiere. One holds life-long commitment; the other displays temporary approval and enjoyment over something.

Where using the word 'love' fails is when we describe two different things non-relationally. So when i say 'I love this movie' and when i say 'I love pizza,' i fail to properly express what each of them makes me feel. The movie might connect me to my childhood, it might tell a compelling story that moves me, it might just be a well-written, well-acted movie. However, the pizza is a purely sensational connection. When i enjoy pizza, when i love it, it is purely because of sensation. It fills my belly and satisfies my taste buds.

The first is more intellectual, even where it delves into visceral sensations. The second is purely sensation, entirely built upon how good it makes me feel.

The Greeks do a better job at this than we do. They are five Greek words for our one equivalent: storge, philia, eros, thelema and agape. The wonders of wikipedia. Growing up in church, i'd always heard about four words, but there are actually five. What do you know. The language is deeper than i thought.

Storge describes affection, like a familial bond between brother and sister, or mother and child.

Philia is a word that means friendship. It conveys with it a sense of loyalty.

Eros is passionate love, generally used for the sensual relationships between man and a woman, but it could also be used platonically for a relationship that goes deeper than philia.

Thelema is a desirous love, the selfish desire that speaks of a selfish personal fulfillment.

Agape covers them all. Ancient Greek uses it to convey a general sense of affection. Primarily is used to testify the feeling of being content or holding someone in high regard. The New Testament uses it in the sense of self-sacrificing love.

There is diversity in these words. You can convey more exactly what you mean, with less confusion.

There is more than i have to say about our failure with 'love' but i don't want to write too much at one time. I hate reading posts that are too long, so i won't put that on anybody else. So this has become my first two-part post. Hope none of you mind. There should be enough to think about and discuss here, for starters.

14 April 2009

Language for the e-Leet

I didn't think to write a blog on the use of language over the internet. I don't know why it didn't come to mind. I have to give credit where it's due. My friend Scott gave me the idea. It's almost a given that i should write on this. After all, this is a blog on language; what's a more natural fit than to talk about the use of language on the internet than a blog? So thank you, Scott, for the idea. Don't know why i didn't think of it myself.

As a quick background, there are different sorts of people online, and each of them fall within a range of understandability.

There are those like myself who (for the most part) write as if i was writing formally. I occasionally toss in some acronyms like 'lol,' 'brb,' or 'ttyl.' I use smilies to convey emotion where there is not enough room to convey it with words. Overall, i'd say people can understand what i'm saying pretty easily.

Next up are the folks who substitute letters and alternate spellings for words. It wud not b od 2 c this sentence n a chatroom online. For those unaccustomed to the use of substitutes, it gets difficult reading. For people like me who don't type this way, it becomes a burden more than a help. The Sub method of writing online is best used among those with limited typing skills, or those who learned Sub speak before learning how to type.

At the top, or bottom, of the list is leet, or l33t, or 1337. If you couldn't figure out by the alternative 'spellings,' this style of writing using not just alternate letters and spellings, it uses every symbol on the keyboard to change whatever letter you can into something else. It gets rather difficult to read, and even harder to type for someone of my 'noob' status, but here goes: L337 $P34|< 15 7+3 (00|357! Even here, the generator i used mixed it up a bit from what i've seen before (you think i'd actually know how to write leet?); that's the versatility of it. There are certain basics that are firm, but everything else is constantly changing, allowing each person to create their own exact method.

(By the way, there is even a leet speak version of Google: http://www.google.com/intl/xx-hacker/. I'm pretty sure it's not official Google.)

A lot of people have yelled loudly about how the internet has desecrated our beloved English language, that every time we substitute a 'c' for 'see' we rape her. The same can be said of texting, but the attack is generally leveled against the all-encompassing internet, proabably because texting is person-to-person and the internet is splayed out for everyone to see. Even six years ago, the New York Times was telling us how crucial it is for teens to learn how to spell correctly, and how frustrating is for teachers now. This article was written even before leet speak was well known among the media. It was already widespread, but it stayed entirely underground for at least a decade.

As much as it seems like i should want to see the internet's effects on language to disappear, since i am concerning with the weakening of the English language, i don't think it's the monstrosity it's often made out to be. Maybe it's my own personal experience blinding me.

When i first began to be heavily involved with the online world, it was mainly through the IM communities. Seeing the language around me, i emulated and used my fair share of Sub speak. Once i got involved with message boards and other places more writing intensive, i dropped it. It became too difficult to write out paragraphs at a time, and just as difficult for me to read other people's posts, even when though i knew the writing. It required more thinking to read. So i dropped it.

Here is my prediction: Even though the next generation has absorbed this more fully than mine did, i don't think it will continue upward. I see it as one of those things that will fade with time; not a collective fade, as Latin has, but a personal forgetting, as it becomes easier to communicate what you want through the standard language usage.

These shortcut 'dialects' are only so useful. The emotional range they can wield is narrow. Even in our culture of shortcuts and microwaves, we find it necessary to do things the more conventional way. The English language as we know it is not dying because of the internet, nor is it being raped; it will change, but it's still too soon to know what kind of change it will bring about.

For the in-between time, we should encourage those who use Leet Speak or Sub Speak to use it where appropriate, when you need to use short bits of writing, like a text or an IM. I won't be joining them in using it, but so long as it stays where it's useful, it won't be the bane many fear it will.

*That sentence reads 'leet speak is the coolest.'

06 April 2009

Filler Words

The word 'like' has three meanings, but four uses.

That's pretty strange. Even more odd is that the fourth use actually takes away from the three meanings. Let me explain.

The word 'like,' when shrunk to its most basic, means 'to be similar to' or 'for example' or 'enjoyment.' You would use it in sentences similar to these:
  • 'Run like the wind, Bullseye!'
  • 'You ate that cheese like my dog eats his food.'
  • 'I like long walks on the beach, holding hands, and romantic comedies.'
These are the three uses of the word, but the fourth is entirely unlike any of the others. The fourth use is as a filler word. A filler word is used when you're speaking and you need time between your brain and your mouth, so you fill that empty space with something that means nothing. 'Uh' and 'um' are the most common, but 'like' is right up there with them.

This fourth use as a filler word has progressively destroyed the fuller meanings of the word. You might think that since it now has more purpose, it would be a more useful word. That's not the case. Language doesn't work that way. The more use a word gets, the more the word seems to fade from it's meaning. Usually this happens through time.

It's similar to nature. Left to their own devices, that is, natural use through time, a word will erode and fade and lose bits of its original meaning. Take for instance the word 'dreary.' The original meaning of the word in Old English was 'bloody, sad,' then it came to mean 'bloody, sad, frightened' in Middle English. Here we are today and it means 'dull, boring, bleak.' You could say it's the quintessential word to use; it began as a vibrant word full of meaning, now it is used up so that it has become 'dull' and 'boring.'

That is natural evolution of language. There is no need to stop it, nor a chance to. It's how language evolves and changes. It's necessary. The Arabic world has done their ineffectual best to halt the changing of language. The view is that the language used to write the Koran is the best language of man, so we need to preserve it. So while translations of the Koran are allowed, they are not the true text. There aren't even updates to the original language; it is used as the basis of language still today. But they have failed at keeping language stagnant. While the words in the Koran are still understandable and used today by Muslims, the common street language is very different. There is no way to stop the natural evolution of language, so there is no need to try to protect words like 'dreary.'

However, there is an unnatural pressure on 'like' that is bleaching it before its time. Just as pollution can erode the landscape faster than the elements alone, 'like' is being eroded through empty overuse.

I'm not saying all those who use 'like' as a filler word are dumb and stupid and should be shot. I am one of those people. When i'm talking, i toss the word around like it is salt for a can of condensed soup. It's something i am working on, because i realize it's killing the word.

This is not meant to berate or pressure anyone into anything. The only purpose of this blog, as i've said before, is to attempt a change in the way language is used, to help renew it, bring it to life again where it has died or is weak. I believe filler words like this are weakening language. If we, as a culture, took time to think out our thoughts before we said them, we would be better equipped to speak, and to do so without harming any words in the process.

(I don't think the same things about 'uh' and 'um' because they are not words themselves. They are solely used as filler words. Even though you can't erode them, i would still recommend not using them, to help yourself to sound more articulate. I'm going to try.)

24 March 2009

Language Alive

When i posted my first blog, i wasn't expecting to get much response. At least, i wasn't anticipating an interesting, but short, conversation to break out in the comments. They bring up some good questions, as well as some talking points.

Matthew asked how i think language has weakened. This blog is a response to that question.

I feel that the danger we are facing with the breakdown of language isn't so much grammatical. Sure, there is danger in that, simply because the entire purpose of grammar is to enable clear communication. If our grammar if faulty or broken, we cannot effectively communicate with one another. A sentence that is read easily with a properly placed comma becomes a puzzle without one, and who's to say the reader will answer the puzzle correctly.

But what i was really talking about is the loss of imagination in language. One of my teachers at Sac State talked about two different kinds of writers. He said the majority of writers were used by language; that is to say, when they wrote, what they wanted to say was limited by their language because they could not effectively wield it. Then there were writers like Joyce who used language. They were the ones who were able to reimagine language, to not just breathe life into it in a way that allowed them to say exactly what they wanted, but they breathed life into it for the rest of us.

See, language, like the rest of us, changes with time. In one of my favorite books, Walking on Water, Madeleine L'Engle says, 'Language is a living thing; it does not stay the same; it is hard for me to read the language of Piers Plowman, for instance, so radical have the changes been. But language is its own creature. It evolves on its own. It follows the language of its great artists, such as Chaucer.'

Someone could argue that we have artists today who are reimagining language, breathing life into it yet again. They could toss out names like Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace, or Thomas Pynchon. They could easily be right. But at the rate we are assaulted with unimaginative language--in everything from television sitcoms to billboard advertisements to text messages--we need all the help we can get. We need more Shakespeares.

By some counts, Shakespeare introduced over 1700 words into the English language. If the Oxford English Dictionary is any reckon, that number can be increased to over 2000. (That's the number of entries that have his work listed as the oldest source.) Language should change with the people, but that change should be driven by good art.

Like all things, left to itself, language falls apart. It ages with time and entropy pulls it apart. Old and rusty clichés become normal, littering the floor of our collective consciousness so that those ideas that once seemed new and novel and helped us see the world in a bright and wonderful way have lost all meaning. We still say 'foot of the hill' but we no longer see the hill as a giant with feet and a head (crown); we see a hill with a base we call a foot.

Since it takes the artists to push language to new territory, to new imagination, everyone else is off the hook, right? Not quite. If Joyce had never been read, and talked about, and grappled with, if Shakespeare had been put on a shelf and forgotten, or never again performed after his death, language would still be floundering. It is up to everyone who speaks the language to continue to grapple with it. The artist is the source, but everybody is the conduit. We, each and every one of us, are part of the solution, part of the reimagination, part of the growth of language.

19 March 2009

I Salute You (or do i?)

Before i go further, there are some things i should clarify.

I don't capitalize the letter 'i' when it is by itself, unless it starts the sentence. I just don't. And i have very good reason for it. (Whether i can convince some future publisher to listen to me, i don't know.)

English is the only language that capitalizes the first-person pronoun. French and Spanish use all lowercase letters for their pronouns. German capitalizes 'you' but leaves 'i' to its diminutive status. English is the only language that exclusively capitalizes the word 'i'. Why is that?

According to this great article in the New York Times, it comes from scribes prior to the 13th century who began capitalizing it to differentiate it from the rest of the letters. That is, without being a capital, it could be misconstrued as a vagrant letter, straying from a word to which it belongs. Yet, on that same token, the word 'a' is left untouched. There is no way to know that when i say 'a round' i didn't instead mean 'around,' unless you look at the words contextually.

If we can understand 'a round' versus 'around' and know that the letter 'a' is good enough on its own without being accentuated, why not also do the same for the letter 'i'?

Because of this precedent established over 800 years ago, we speakers of English have taken on a characteristic of the capital word 'i' that we will be hard-pressed to undo.

Western society is know for its focus on the individual, in contrast to Eastern focus on the collective, the community. I'm not going to say that this contrast was set up because of a single capital letter. Western society is formed from more than just those of us who speak English. However, I will argue that those of us in the Western world who speak English, especially Americans, are far more individual-minded than our non-English-speaking counterparts.

It's been said repeatedly in the news recently that the United States is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not have universal health care. Whether or not you agree with it, it does say something about our America. We are so individualistic, we don't think it's up to the collective to care for the health of the individual; it's up to each person, or family, to work that out.

Or look at our politics. Since the beginning of our country, America has been involved in 21 different wars. The only countries that have been involved in more than us are the United Kingdom and France, both of whom are middle-aged compared to us. This is probably why other countries consider America a bully, or imperialist; we enter wars, or start wars, or provoke wars across the globe, treating rival nations as if we have the right to govern them.

Again, i'm not saying that giving the word 'i' has caused all of this. It hasn't. We have. Yet our language both forms the way we think and instills in us our view of the world. Is it any wonder we are so selfish and individualistic when we place our own selves higher and taller than the others around us? Instead we say, through our language, 'he and she aren't as important as I am, and you are less than I am, too.'

We are a selfish people. Why should we capitalize the first-person pronoun the same way we would the name of God?

There are a couple solutions. We can, like Germany, flip things around. Make 'You' the word we capitalize as we leave 'i' small. Or We can equalize everyone with capitals and give every pronoun that jump in size.

I choose to leave all pronouns small, unless they fall under other rules of capitalization, just as this sentence did. So unless 'i' begins the sentence, i'm keeping him small.

(Just for the record, i've written on this before in my other blogs, but rather than copy it here, or even expand on it, i didn't even consult my previous blog. Every sentence is newly constructed, only the thoughts remain the same, but even then, some new ones entered the fray in this blog.)

17 March 2009

Reason Why

This blog is an experiment.

I have a myspace and a livejournal where i share my thoughts already. Even with those blogs, i stay away from too much personal blogging. Never have i ever written a blog where i've bemoaned my life, or canvassed my week for my loyal 'readers' to know what is going on with me. (I put that in quotes because my readers are my friends, so i consider them friends first and, by far, foremost, but they are my readers.) I'm not a person who likes to share the every details of his life with people, especially the details that i would not enjoy reading.

That's my reasoning anyway. I actually enjoy reading about the lives of my friends, because it gives the illusion that i have more than a cursory connection to most of them. I realize this is hypocritical of me, not to share with my friends what consists of my life, but to enjoy reading about their lives. Part of it comes from my disinterest with writing about my life. I've already lived it, i don't need to re-live it through a blog.

With two blogs alredy under my belt (but to be honest, i need to confess that those blogs are, in all honesty, simply two venues through which to read the same blog), there is no need for a third. Really.

Yet here it is. My experiment. This is going to be a blog unlike any other i've written. This is going to be themed. No '80s night. Nothing centered around ugly articles of clothing, or television shows, or your gender. This is a blog built around language.

I fear that the language we use today has weakened, especially as followers of God. I do include myself in that. I am part of the problem as much as, if not more than, i am part of the solution. This blog is an attempt to combat that, even if only for myself. If language dies, not only does our communication with each other, but so does the communication with ourselves and with our God.

Before i can write about language, i need to get a few things out of the way about myself, or at least about myself in regards to language.

I love stories. I always will. It's part of my personality, part of my wiring. I believe the ability to create and craft stories, as well as enjoy them, is integral to what makes us human. We best learn through the use of stories, hence the fairy tale stories we hear growing up, stories infused with morals, stories that subsequently shape the way we view the world.

That is who i am. I believe in the power of language, yet i have become slightly fearful and largely annoyed with how it has been degraded and weakened. This blog will be an experiment in strengthening language.

High task, to be sure. I know i'm not up for it.

Still, i cannot stand by any longer.

Besides, it's another excuse to write.