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.)