Saturday, January 9, 2010

I write because I have nothing important to say

I thought I would share part the introduction to a book I read recently. I'll let the words speak for themselves, I only hope they impact you even half as much as they affected me.

Words at Play by Willard Espy (a collection of word games and witty wordy sayings)

Any Fair minded person must concede that words are not tools of communication in the way that, say, frowns and kisses are. In childhood we communicate by screaming, chuckling, sticking fingers into eyes and pulling hair. Our parents communicate with us by suckling, hugging, changing diapers, spanking and sending us to bed without our suppers.

A few years later teachers communicate with us by putting gold stars after out names, or standing us in corners. We answer by turning out hair into blackberry bushed and, these days knocking the teachers down and stomping them.

In college, we communicate by locking the president in his office and bombing the library. The president communicates by calling the constabulary, who communicate by means of truncheons, Mace, tear gas and, occasionally, gunfire. The meaning of these exchanges is perfectly understood by everyone involved, though an observer would not be able to recognize any words at all in the din, except for a continuous chant of ‘Motherf----‘, which does not count, since it does not appear in either Webster’s or the Oxford English Dictionary.

By the time we marry and settle down we are locked for life in to the Manichean fallacy. Everything we do not like about the world is the result of someone’s deliberate evildoing. So we have no reason for verbal expression. One does not hold a dialogue with the wicked; and as for the good (that is, those who are on our side) one communicates very satisfactorily simply by grunting.

The working man communicates with his boss by striking, arriving late, getting messages wrong, disarranging the cards in the computer and forgetting to flush the toilet. The boss talks back by flounting a Cadillac or Mercedes-Benz, taking winter holidays and having no money left over for a Christmas bonus.

Politicians communicate by waving their arms, shaking their fists and glaring into the television camera. Nations communicate by stockpiling, and at times using, napalm, atom bombs, submarines, missiles and poison gas.

These forms of communication outrank words because they are far more effective. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Promises are pleasant, but diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Speak softly, but carry a big stick. I’ll brave the thunder if you’ll brave the lightning.

The pretence that words make a difference in human affairs is one of the oldest and dirtiest tricks of English teachers and the ruling classes. Long before we emerged from our caves it had become clear that if one man could fool another into arguing instead of throwing a rock, he – the first man, that is – had it made. Marie Antoinette did not say, ‘Let them eat cake’. She said, ‘Keep them talking’. When people stop talking, they are becoming dangerous.

1 comment: