Loving Language

NYT.language

(Image Source: http://www.posttypography.com/illustration/language-changed-by-the-internet/ with original credit due the New York Times)

I love this picture, the fingerprints erasing and expanding, reshaping and redefining, demonstrating that the very act of engaging with language changes the very shape of language.

I love language.

I love the bumps and curves of it as it scrolls across the page, the letters forming symbols like stones, piling one upon another, creating a castle, brick by beautiful brick, that is so much larger than the sum of its parts.  Whether it’s great writing or great oratory (a product, I may add, of great writing), language, in all its various symbols, is something to be celebrated, encouraged, and discussed.

I love language.

I love its ambiguity and its specificity, as vast a distance as between Pluto and the Sun, the reach between the two containing worlds, moons, and stars of nuance. I love that some words are more solid than others, more fixed in the sky–to the naked eye–at any rate–while some are more fluid, freezing or flowing based on outside forces, like societal pressure, or internal forces, like impassioned beliefs. I love that the same words, the same symbols, can depict the rise and fall of resounding success and bewildering defeat. I love that common words, with simpler meaning in one language, can hold depths of nuance in another, containing, within a tiny sphere, both sameness and difference. I love that the gap between specificity and ambiguity creates a space for interpretation, for debate, for the free exchange of ideas–all of which are formed by words.

One of my favorite sayings is one attributed to Mark Twain. “The difference between the right word and the almost- right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

I love language. I love its cadence, its alliteration, its dual meaning.  And I really, really love puns. Especially when they’re groaners.

I love language.

As I sift through the Supreme Court’s decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, (the decision which can be read here) I find myself wondering: why haven’t I done this before?  Why have I not read legal decisions before, especially those handed down by the highest court in the United States of America? It’s fascinating stuff, filled with all the beauty of language I so love. I haven’t finished all of the dissents yet.  My habit of taking notes, googling definitions, and reading peripheral information (i.e., cited cases)–a holdover from my undergrad years–is making it a bit slow. I probably should have read the judgment in its entirety first: I’ve heard I’m in for a joy-ride of gobbly-gook in Justice Scalia’s dissent. I especially love gobbly-gook. From Whedonesque language (i.e., the “Buffy Years,” which were preceded by the “Firefly months”) e.g., the manipulation of nouns into adjectives and adverbs, verbs into nouns, etc. to the sheer linguistic acrobatics of Tom Robbins, I love gobbly-gook.

Gobbly-gook is the steak that’s tough, ensuring that mastication is an effort, lengthening the time of digestion. And, if truth be told, often producing some really solid shit. Granted, I prefer my steak tender, but I do love me some tough language.

I am reading the decision because I want to understand the reasoning behind the judgment. I was (and am) a huge supporter of–not gay rights–but human rights.  And gay folks–for all of the things they may or may not be, may or may not do, according to various religious beliefs–are, in fact, human. And American humans should be afforded all of the rights and privileges that other American humans are afforded.

But I digress. Language. I love it. As I delve more deeply into the majority’s decision and, currently, Justice Roberts’ dissent,  I find myself falling even more in love with language.  Language matters. Interpretation matters. Voices matter. This case bears no immediate, personal relevance to my marital rights, and yet it is a “landmark” case for me. It has re-impressed upon me, in an immediate and personal manner, several things, three of which are:

  • The need for precise and mindful language.
  • The need for personal interpretation and open debate on those interpretations.
  • The power of language, and its ability to both form future culture and reflect current culture.

According to Universe Today, the distance between the Sun and Pluto is 3.67 billion miles, or roughly 5.9 billion kilometers. That sounds like a good measure between specificity and ambiguity of language, and gives us as humans an incredibly large space in which to play. I love that, too.

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