Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Alchemy of the Word Part 3

Part 3: Loading Language
By Aubrey Zich

"He understood for the first time that the world is not dumb at all, but merely waiting for someone to speak to it in a language it understands. In the fairy's song the earth recognized the names by which it called itself."
— Susanna Clarke

As I've said previously, language is malleable.  It can be pounded, melted and smelted into shapes that have meaning  One does not need to go as far as to create a new word to control it.  Meaning can be assigned and changed if the will or desire is strong enough.  One point my mother tried to reinforce to me as a child was, "You cannot change the meaning of a word."  What she actually meant was, "You can, but you shouldn't."  Altering meaning changes intent, opens doors of  mixed blessings-- depending on one's ultimate goal.

If you've ever had an academic debate (or any serious sort of debate) with an English Major, at some point it will degenerate the literal meaning of one's word choices, their relative position in a sentence and their juxtaposition to other words one said or wrote previously.  At this point, you will both be required to pull out the agreed-upon standard for language, generally the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary, and start defining each word by what it actually means. 
It is important to understand the meaning of a word in its truest form.  It prevents it from being corrupted by emotion or influence.  When a group of people accept a definition it becomes common.  It also gives the word its power.  If one does not know the true essence of a word, it can be co-opted and corrupted.  
This is especially true for words based on intellectual or political concepts.  For example, the word "feminism", which Merriam-Webster defines under the first definition as "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes" has been associated with images of man-hating bra burners.  This association has altered the meaning of the words substantially from its true essence, one of acceptance, to one of conflict.  

Once I told a friend "You're wrong" and he pointed out there was nothing wrong with him.  However, there was something wrong with my contextual usage of the word "wrong" and it is always wrong to use "I think you're wrong" as an opening statement of a disquisition.

It is necessary to grasp the literal relevance of word meaning; how it relates to the subject on a very basic level.  We may understand the implied meaning, such as "Your idea is wrong;" However, in its unadulterated form, that is not the message being communicated by the words "You're wrong."  Deliberately or not, we speak in a double tongue: the literal meaning and the intended meaning.  If one manifests something strong enough, one will sometimes find he or she gets exactly what he or she wants.  Literally, to the word.  It is not, "be careful what you wish for," but rather, "be careful how you word your wishes."  

In the alchemy of the word, both meaning and placement are critical.  

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Mispronouncing words can also be a form of word alchemy.  One maintains the meaning of the old world 
while putting a different spin on it.  The only foundation that needs to be laid is establishing the new pronunciation as the correct one-- and if not correct, than an acceptable dialectic interpretation.  Once this is done, the new word can be shaped in the speaker's image.

Take Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bill Clinton and most notably, George W. Bush's form of the word "Nuclear."  In the proper pronunciation, "Nuclear" defines what it does in three syllables: new-cle-ear.  New Clear.  A Nuclear war will create a new, clear space.  It will decimate everything in its path.  However, nuke-you-lar shifts the focus on you.  It no longer has  amorphous meaning.  It is not barren earth or a sparse or grassy meadow.  A Nuke-YOU-lar war will directly affect you.  YOU will be at risk if North Korea has atom bombs.  YOU must be personally afraid.

A common word can also be used to unify a group of individuals.  The Occupy Wall Street movement, which embodies the social unrest felt by the disenfranchised poor and middle class of America, has given the term "occupy" a new contextual meaning.  The images conjured vary on one's personal views and feelings about Occupy Wall Street, however, the word "occupy" has come to represent a movement rather than its definition as defined by Merriam-Webster.  A word can be co-opted and used for  uniting people to work for a common goal, but it can also be used for control.

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