23 July 2010

Nouns and Verbs

This week i found out about a five-part series on language, titled Planet Word. That it will air on BBC2--meaning without cable or satellite i'm unable to watch it--doesn't considerably quell my excitement.

The creator of the series, Stephen Fry, is nationally renowned (in Britain) as the quizmaster of QI and was voted the most intelligent man in 2006 by the readers of RT.

In a recent interview, he said something intriguing, yet profound. 'We are not nouns, we are verbs,' said Fry. 'I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.'

How often do we think of ourselves as nouns? We use nouns to describe ourselves relationally as brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, co-workers, friends, classmates, roommates and neighbors. We use nouns to talk about our vocations: fire fighter, chef, salesman, street vender, exterminator, construction worker. Even some of our accomplishments are listed as nouns. We talk about being high school or college graduates, environmental advocates, philanthropists, investors, artists and gardeners.

When we use nouns to describe ourselves, we are using inactive words to describe active people.

We may be brothers, daughters, neighbors and classmates, but if we don't act as a brother, daughter, neighbor or classmate, we aren't truly fulfilling the meaning of the word.

Additionally, our jobs should not define us as inactive nouns. A job is active and moving, even if it takes place at a desk in a cubicle.

Especially when we talk about our accomplishments, what we say should be full of the life and activity only verbs can give language. There is subtle difference between a 'graduate' and one who 'graduated,' but that subtlety is crucial. Like the man who exercises every day, the difference fails to manifest immediately. Gradually, a new picture is painted of a man who is healthier, more fit, and more energized.

Our lives are not defined by what we are, but what we do. Our language and the words we use to describe ourselves should reflect as much.

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