In light of recent events in Nepal, I’ve decided to ask all of you for your help in supplying relief. As it stands now the death toll is over 5,000. Here are two links to organizations that are collecting donations to help with relief. I know there’s only 30 of you that follow this blog, but any assistance is worthwhile. Have a nice day, and I’ll be back on Friday. MercyCorps: https://www.mercycorps.org/ Care.org: https://my.care.org/site/Donation2;jsessionid=DEF2923F7619206BB9D9E092A3C185C6.app330a?df_id=18880&18880.donation=form1&utm_source=Nepalearthquake&utm_medium=Care2_dbase&utm_campaign=Nepalearthquakediasterresponse
It was Sunday afternoon and I was carrying a load of laundry into our bedroom. I started folding when I saw Amy slouching over her desk with her hands in her hair staring at her computer. Almost instantly I thought, “This will be interesting.” So I went over and asked her “What are you working on?”
“I don’t remember.” She said.Confused and befuddled, I asked, “How can you not remember what your story is about?”
“Okay. No, what I meant was, I remember the subject, I just- I can’t understand my outline.” I looked over her shoulder and the outline read as follows:
- The guy
- The woman
- The team
- The building
I don’t have any possible clue as to what she was trying to write about. So I asked her and she said, “Me of the past thought it was good enough at the time.
It was Monday morning, and like all people with all Monday mornings, I instantly didn’t like it. But the day goes on whether or not I do, so I hurled myself out of bed and began my morning routine. I got the coffee can, started the brew, turned on “The Daily Show”, and fixed myself a cup. After the show it was a little after 7:40 and I noticed that my wife hadn’t woken up yet. So I went to check on her.
Sure enough there she was curled up into the smallest ball she could possibly make, with the entire comforter tightly pulled on top of her. It was really cute actually. As much as I wanted to join her we both had to go to work in about an hour so I had to wake her. All while shaking her I said “Come on honey you have to get up.”
“Yes, it’s time to get up.”
“Let me sleep.”
“No, you have to go to work.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Yes, just get up.” I tried to yank the comforter off, but she just wouldn’t let go for even a second. “Come oooooooon!”
“Noooooooooo! I’m calling in sick!” At this point, I’m fed up and just let her do it. I hopped in the shower, got out; brushed my teeth, put on deodorant and cologne. Then as I stepped out of the bathroom Amy, strode past me, coffee in hand, fully dressed, and on her way out. Annoyingly confused, I asked her, “I thought you were going to stay home today?” She swiveled around to talk to me with a disinterested face (while walking backward), shrugged her shoulders and said, “Eh, I got bored.” That morning I made sure to pick up a bottle of ibuprofen before going to work.
On Saturday morning, I was getting ready to head out of the house and do a few things, when Amy came in with a package held to her chest and plopped herself onto the couch. I was curious so I went to see what she was up to. “Whatcha’ got there?”
“Don’t know. It looked interesting, so I bought it.”
“…” Her response honestly made me wonder why I asked. “Well anyway, I have to run a few errands, so I’ll be back in a few hours, okay?”
“Gotcha.” She tore away the paper package and immediately opened up the book.
At about 4:30 that night I walked into the house and I was a little put off because Amy was still sitting on the couch. Except she wasn’t reading the book, and she wasn’t watching TV; she was just looking at the wall. I walked over to her to see what was going on. When I was next to the table, she finally noticed me and said, “Oh! Hey.”
“Hey… what are you doing?”
“Thinking.” She smiled now. I still don’t know why I tried. “Okay,” I said. I looked over at the book, and I was completely confused because it looked like she had only gotten a few pages into it; and it had been a few hours, so she should’ve been further than that. I picked up the book, went to where the bookmark was, and I was right. “You only got to page three,” I said.
“I know, it’s really good at being a book,” she said.
Has this ever happened to you? You’re sitting there writing/typing a paper. You’re already one or two paragraphs in, and then you get stuck. It’s not writer’s block; you just don’t have the right words to express what you’re thinking. Some words come to mind, but they’re not quite right. They don’t properly express the idea you’re trying to convey. The words just don’t have that certain je ne sais quoi. So perhaps, crazy thought, your English teacher’s probably not going to like this; you make up a word and its definition.
Right now, I’m reading Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. In the book, Vonnegut invents two words: Karass (kuh-rass, not car-ass) and Granfalloon; two words that are actually quite useful if you look up their definitions (on google). I used to think that making up words was a dirty practice by writers; a cheap way of skating by complex writing. Until I watched a Mental_Floss video where they counted down words invented by authors (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x63y-zV152w). Did you know that Charles Dickens invented the word “Boredom?” Shakespeare invented “assassination,” “swagger,” and “lonely”. Can you imagine how hard it would be to describe boredom without “bored” or “boredom”? Sure, you could maybe describe the feeling through other means. Maybe even say, “It’s when you have nothing to do.” But that would take longer than necessary and doesn’t quite capture the essence of what you’re trying to convey. If you say “bored” or “boredom,” people know what you’re saying, and quickly too. If you’re referring to a specific type of boredom, that’s going to be harder though. Same goes for the other words. Think about how hard it would be to describe the feeling of loneliness without lonely.
If you think about it, words are pretty arbitrary. We make organized sounds with our mouths and we understand the ideas we’re trying to express. Language (the method through which two beings communicate) may not be a human construct, but when talking about sophisticated language, like any human language, the line between simple communication and human construct starts to get blurry. Whenever there are complex ideas and thinking, there needs to be the ability to express those ideas. Hell, if we’re taking into account all these ideas, the ones following and the ones proceeding, then it’s not too far off to say all words are arbitrary. French philosopher Jacques Derrida once wrote, “There is no outside-text.” Derrida is not saying that a work’s meaning is concrete and not bendable to perception, but rather there is nothing beyond the text because everything is textual. Everything is ambiguous and open to interpretation. While you may not find a Communist exposition in Super Mario Brothers, there’s nothing stopping you from interpreting the information as such. This quote is usually used in the context of literary analysis, or the deconstruction of other media and narratives, but it can also apply to a linguistic context. Let’s give an example of this. Let’s say that one day you have a child, and one day you give them a notebook. Instead of calling it a notebook, though, they call it a “candle”. At first, when they start saying this, you’re confused because it’s so unconventional. Over time, however, you become familiar with your child’s use of the word and depending on the context, you know that when they say “candle” they mean “notebook.” Words simply stand in for the ideas themselves, and thereby can be interpreted and used in any way to mean anything. As a matter of fact, we already do this to an extent. If you’ve ever used a secret phrase with someone, wherein you say certain sentences that mean entirely different things, then you have switched out the meaning of words.
In an age where philosophy and critical thinking are far more advanced than any time previously, more and more complex thoughts are going to need explaining. Sometimes you can’t explain them though. Try as you might, when someone reads your paper; no matter how many analogies, metaphors, or large words you throw at them, they just don’t get it. When they give you their interpretation, they’re on the right track, but they just fall short of reaching true mutual understanding. Key details are just not expressed. Expression of true meaning and understanding escapes you, you’re close, you can feel it, but you just can’t. The true meaning of the idea escapes language. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once stated, “Whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent.” It is commonly interpreted to mean “If you’re not familiar with a subject, don’t speak on it.” I’m guilty of using it in this context (it’s very snappy and profound). The widely accepted sophisticated interpretation is more like, “When you can’t explain something, it is perhaps best to leave those things unexplained.” Wittgenstein also followed this thought up by saying that his work consisted of two parts: the parts expressed and the parts unexpressed, and it is the latter part that is more important. The latter part is the true meaning/understanding. You may be entirely familiar with an idea but be incapable of conveying it. Think of it like a glacier; your words are everything on top, but the true depth of the idea is everything beneath it. It’s hard because words are just so flimsy.
Where I don’t agree with Wittgenstein is the silent part. This ideology assumes that, with silence, people will reflect critically on the words expressed and eventually reach that full understanding (either through their own critical thought, circumstance or another explanation) at a later time. This aspect of the ideology is incredibly optimistic and puts a lot of faith into human beings. Instead of relying on the hope, that given time, they’ll understand, it’s best to actively seek out a way to convey complex ideas. Life and people are far too unpredictable to have that much trust in them. A way that we can assure more comprehension of ideas is through the invention of new words. Vonnegut invented the word karass (even if it isn’t officially recognized as a word) which he defined as a cosmological network of people that are all connected by a similar higher purpose or goal. See why he needed to invent that word? New words could be our stepping stones to a higher comprehension of more refined thinking. We can’t just simply leave deeper understanding as it is. At its simplest, the evolution of critical thinking may need the invention of a few new words. At its most difficult, it may mean large scale changes to the nature of language and communication as we know it. Either way, we can’t leave deeper meanings alone just because we’re currently unable to express them.
I don’t usually like to ask anyone who reads my post to do this, but if you enjoyed what you read please be sure to share it.