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Cunning Linguist: What Language Means to Me

Thoughts on a Tuesday Night:

I’m often mocked for my persnickety approach to language use. It probably seems to other people that I like grammar and syntax and etymology more than I like human beings. The truth is, I love languages. All of them. Because I love the mechanics of language. I love that we can force air through our food hole while making silly faces and forge friendships, or profess love, or inspire devotion, or create whole universes spun from our imaginations.

Language is a gift many of us take for granted, and yet few of us would care to live without. It is, along with tool use and a certain willingness to despoil all of creation in the name of self-preservation, the thing that elevates us above mere animal existence to a truly human one. All animals—humans included—are driven to communicate, but only humans (so far as we know) use that ability not merely to describe reality, but to question and even create it. We alone can trap the fluttering gossamer of thought and set it (or our best approximation) down in text for some distant descendant to read and understand. We can redefine reality by corralling our thoughts and transforming them into words, which then become deeds. Language is the river AND the rocks within it, a swirling maelstrom with an eye made of bright magic. If humans are the universe struggling to understand itself, then language is the greatest of the tools in our modest kit.

Even the Judeo-Christian tradition (so entangled with the Hellenic ideals and thirst for knowledge in our modern Western world) says that the very universe itself began with “logos:” the word. God spoke, and in doing so created everything.

Talk about a bang.

As a Deist, that’s enough for me, really. That act of volition, of creation through expression, was all humanity needs or deserves, because it sets the template for our own adventure. We don’t need a micromanager, or the Architect of all Creation hovering over a football field to make sure Local Sports Team wins their match. We are programmed to use language. We are programmed to create through expression.

We are programmed to author reality.

That is why a deep and thorough understanding of language, and respect for its vast powers, is so important to me. How can we defend ourselves from those who seek to reshape the world if we cripple ourselves? How can we reshape a world we can barely describe?

To put it another way: would you rather paint with 8 colors, or 64? How about 64 million?

How about all the colors that stretch from the black of the abyss to the white fire of the heavens?

That’s what language means to me.

Does it mean more to me than you? Are you kidding? It’s the thing I like best ABOUT you.

Now go make something awesome.

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