Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Use Your Words!

I've been planning a craft for the girls I watch that involves using words clipped out of magazines and newspapers.  I guess I could *try* to get them involved in the actual word clipping, but I know that would go over about as well as if I asked them to do their own laundry.  The youngest one (The Princess) wouldn't even know what I was talking about (I'm pretty sure she believes the Laundry Fairy comes and washes all her clothes and magics them back into her dresser.  Well, okay, the Laundry Fairy does exist--and her name is Mommy...and sometimes Daddy).  The oldest one (The Drama Queen) would freak out about how hard it is and act as though I were a horrible monster for even suggesting that I try to make her do it.  The middle one (The Diva) would let me know that she was perfectly capable of doing it, but that she had better things to do and wouldn't waste her time on such a trivial activity.  Long story short--I would fight a battle doomed to failure and end up cutting all the words out by myself.  So I saved myself a lot of whining and just started clipping out words.

I've been clipping words out of magazines and newspapers for about a month now.  My roommate told me I was going overboard, but I didn't listen.  Turns out, I probably did go overboard, but now I'm kind of addicted to clipping out words, so I'm still doing it even though I've got a huge ziplock bag full of words!  Every time I go to the library, I grab a handful of each of those free periodicals they have there.  And I don't feel too bad about it, because as I've clipped the words, I've read some of the stuff in there.  Some of it is actually pretty good, but most of it belongs on the bottom of a birdcage.  I have a feeling a lot of those free periodicals end up getting recycled without having ever been read.  I feel sorry for those periodicals.  They were printed for a purpose that they will never realize, stacked on the wire rack of their dreams that will never come true.  So I'm doing them a favor by putting them to some use--even if that use is viciously ripping them apart in search of "big, pretty words."

In my search for words, I've noticed that advertisers are some of the best liars in the world.  For example, do you know what the word "unique" means?  Do you know how many times I've cut the word "unique" out of different ads?  If something is unique, then it's one-of-a-kind, right?  Well, I seriously doubt that all of these similar products and services I've encountered are as "unique" as they claim.  But slap the word "unique" on a page with big, pretty letters, add a picture of a cute kid, and all of the sudden suckers are going to get sucked in.  That is, they would if every other "unique" ad didn't also have big, pretty letters and an equally adorable child.  Maybe even holding a puppy, for good measure.

Words are some of my favorite things in the world.  I like the idea that a bunch of symbols (letters) pieced together in a certain order has a meaning that we assign to it.  I like that you can put those words together into sentences that also have meanings.  I like watching toddlers learn to assign meanings to words, and I like hearing them put those words into sentences--figuring out language patterns.  I like watching kindergartners and first graders learn to write out those patterns.  I like watching them struggle with the MANY exceptions to those patterns.  It's not that I like watching them struggle so much as it's interesting to me to watch their brains try to figure out this crazy English language.  As much as the English language has been warped over the centuries, it's a wonder we have any grammatical rules left....

Some grammatical rules seem more important to me than others.  I can't stand it when people use the wrong form of your/you're or there/their/they're, but I can live with a split infinitive (if James T. Kirk could do it on his five year mission, I can do it, too).  I also don't mind it if you end a sentence with a preposition.  And it's absolutely fine with me if you start a sentence with a conjunction (see what I did there?).  I even like passive voice if it's used effectively.  I think I'm more likely to be a grammar nazi when a broken grammar rule leads to difficulty in understanding the meaning that a writer is trying to convey.  For example, the phrase "Your pretty" leads me to ask the question, "My pretty what?"  Yet that doesn't explain why my ears bleed every time someone says, "I'm doing good" or "I'm real smart" or "He ran quick."  I guess being the daughter of two teachers--one of whom was an English teacher--caused me to pick up on how proper grammar should sound. 

I do think there's a problem with what people do with words today.  That "unique" example is part of it.  C. S. Lewis made a good point when he said, "Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."  I do that with the word "awesome."  I use that word like I have to meet a quota.  And when I use it, I'm not even using the original meaning.  I'm using the watered-down 80's version of it.  Word meanings change over time (another thing I really like about words), but sometimes I don't think it's a good thing.  With "awesome," I keep using that word, but I do not think it means what I think it means.  I call my friends awesome.  Does that mean they fill me with awe every time I see them?  Ok...maybe...but I think it more likely that they are just great people whom I like to be around.  Maybe I should find a better word to describe my friends and save the word "awesome" for things that actually inspire awe--like God.

But I really really like the word "awesome," and I really really like using the word "awesome" because it's such an...awesome word.  You see my problem?  That--and I feel the need to repeat the word "really" to convey the really-ness of my like of the word "awesome."

You know what?  Never mind.  I'm pretty sure the English language is doomed to be a train wreck.  I'm the only one of my friends who actually types out words when I text.  I'm sure I annoy all my friends who are able to make sense out of the phrase: "Gng 2 prty @ Sue's 2mrw? 8pm. Cn u br dip?"  I mean, I cause them so much trouble by actually typing it all out: "Are you going to go to the party at Sue's tomorrow?  It's at 8pm.  Can you bring dip?"  All those extra letters to read.  It's such a waste of time!

I believe that in the future, vowels will be obsolete.  Everyone will communicate using only consonants, even whilst speaking, so that all verbal communication will be reduced to a series of grunts.  "Gd mrnng.  Hw r y?"  "Mrnng. M fn. Hw r y?"  "Gd. Nd cff."  "M t."  Yeah.  It'll be really confusing.  To fix that problem, everyone's just going to be implanted with a device that eliminates all need for verbal communication.  To save the time it would take for someone to verbally communicate a thought, the actual thought will actually be projected into another person's actual brain.  ACTUALLY!  This, of course,  will lead to several technical glitches that will eventually make everyone completely telepathic.  Everyone will know everyone else's thoughts all the time.  Then everyone in the world will become uber paranoid and will never leave their houses again.  Until one day a brave soul discovers an ancient book called a "Dictionary" and brings language back into a world that is desperately in need of a few good words.

Ooh.  That would be awesome.

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