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Posts Tagged ‘language’

Saying Nothing: “Lethal Aid”

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Political leaders are perhaps experts not at making policies or making important decisions but in abusing language. President Obama’s white house spokesperson used the odd phrase “lethal aid” in a press briefing today. The entire quotation, “We’re not actively considering lethal aid” came in response to a question regarding the United States assistance to Ukraine. Certainly an odd phrase, “lethal aid”, but what does it mean?

What is “lethal aid”? Rearrange the words to read “aid that is lethal”. Of course the “lethal” nature of this aid means that it’s not lethal to it user. The lethal features of such aid stem from its application to another. In this case the lethality of the aid would only be experienced by Ukrainian protestors who would likely not consider it aid. This “lethal aid” term is a perfect creation of two opposed ideas. It is the paradox perfected as it works to both convey a gentle act of strength and the violent act of killing. It is both cold and warm, boiling and frozen.

The art of politics: saying something that says nothing.

Forbidden Speech

August 3, 2013 Leave a comment

The ability to end a conversation is the finest measure of communicative power. One who can deny a conversation controls the very existence of ideas. Indeed the very birth and death of thought rests with these figures whose personal perspectives decide what can be spoken and considered.

Disgust is often utilized as weapon of choice for those with this control. Some offensive feature of a topic is presented and used to justify the end of its consideration. A topic is discarded and no matter how keen the insight, the speaker’s perspective left ignored.

Political correctness broadly categorizes this process of topic consideration. Certain ideas deemed “beyond the pale” simply go without discussion. Ironically by the very act of denying their existence we often perpetuate them and multiply their power. The comedian Louis C.K. considers this process in a joke about racial vulgarity. In essence, he suggests that by using abbreviations for these words we force the listener to speak the unspeakable in their minds. The joke seems to ask that if we’re so offended why do we insist the other person think the word? Might a better tactic be to use the word constantly as a means to desensitize its content and make it stale?

Unfortunately we latch on to certain powerful words and use them as a means to control conversation. These verboten terms function less for their actual meaning and more as weapons to control discourse. We know who is aware of our cultural norms by the words they use. Speak the wrong word and reveal yourself as an outsider.

Communicative power stems both from speaking and not speaking. To control a conversation is to decide the existence of ideas. Is this power ever beneficial? Often groups in power use this ability to discard the discussion of certain topics as a means to perpetuate their existence. If we never speak of Topic X does it even exist? Never can we register our disgust if we’re not allowed to discuss the topic. Keep it silent and it forever will exist: ever hidden in plain sight.

Questioning False Questions

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Some questions need never be asked. “Can I help you?” or “What can I do?” seem less sincere query and more fake pretense and social staging. If one is capable, why not always help? For some this question is the polite query meaning “I don’t want to help but if you ask I will and know full that by not asking I’ll make you mad.” The game is known and the situation is clear: help is needed. Just do it.

Part of the magic of language is this ability to exist despite purpose or need. We deploy our words as means to achieve disparate and often contradictory goals. Here we have a great example: asking if our help is needed when do not want to help. We learn this use of language early. As children we ask for permission even when we know we will. Is it passive aggressive or just sheer smarts that makes us both capable and willing to use language in this form. From our mouths and lips we emit words of incredible sincerity and dastardly deception.

A useful class of language exists: baseless expressions that establish foundation. Daily paradoxes function to provide multiple levels of benefits: cover our bases, do as we’re expected and avoid as best we can the things we loathe to do.

This Hyphenated Age

June 17, 2012 1 comment

We exist in an era of hyper hyphenation. Just a dash of ink, a la (-), the hyphen may seem minor but with it we express the details of our complicated world. A hyphen creates simplicity where change compounds existence and new details make life murky. Make sense of a life where movement is constant: express the many worlds that define the constant traveler. Working to accurately express an identify becomes challenging when one’s life has fractured countless times. How we do communicate effectively? Risk failure and disregard these complications or sit comfortably in insult as we disregard critical experiences?

Our hyphen is our magic glue: linking the uncommon terms which modify us into unity. Perhaps a Welsh-American will find his rose-tinted glasses smudge free when considering his hyphens. Herein lies great clarity- a true tool for making sense in complication.

A society in which the hyphen exists is one in which combinations not only exist but prosper. Popular recognition of the hyphen is an act of respect, a reaction to the complicated nature of our world. Via the hyphen our language extends beyond biology to express change.

Combination breeds confusion. New breeds and forms demand clarification and distinction. Twenty one dollars or twenty-one? African-American or African American? Hyphens create sense, explain details and reveal by their very presence a linking and need to recognize distinction.

Through our movements in life we become new people who, though unchanged biologically, become new people with new perspectives and identities.  Given the choice between denial or expected absorption we honor change with the hyphen: though changed we retain features of our past and our present. We are complicated people constantly adjusting to the world. Language is our common tool for making and expressing who we are and via the hyphen we strive further to more accurate expression. If tools reflect who we are and what we need, the hyphen is revelation. Via the hyphen we express change and complication. One minor dash communicates not only where we are now but where we’ve been and where we plan to go.

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