Saturday, 17 July 2021
Look at the pretty rainbow
We talk about the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannize over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important, and sounds well. As we are not particular about the meaning of our liveries on state occasions, if they be but fine and numerous enough, so, the meaning or necessity of our words is a secondary consideration, if there be but a great parade of them.
And as individuals get into trouble by making too great a show of liveries, or as slaves when they are too numerous rise against their masters, so I think I could mention a nation that has got into many great difficulties, and will get into many greater, from maintaining too large a retinue of words.
Charles Dickens - David Copperfield (1849-50)
Even in Dickens’ day it was clear enough that words are misused and the meaning of what is said or written may not reflect a genuine standpoint. Words are used for effect, a problem we’ve been familiar with forever.
There may be no meaning at all, nothing but a play on the emotions and susceptibilities. We see it all the time as politicians and the media play their tired tunes on allegiances, fears and emotional cues. Doing their tedious best to ensure that nonsense wins again.
A core problem seems to be that picking apart misleading language has little impact on anyone. We see it all over the internet. There is little point in trying to pull apart a widely-reported celebrity comment by showing it to be meaningless. It doesn’t matter if it is meaningless in an analytical sense. The emotional effect is what matters, not the meaning. The emotional effect is the meaning.
We know this too, but cannot do anything about it. We drown in a barrage of words, flounder around in words which lack the most basic analytical integrity. Even education can’t do anything about that. We want kids to be engaged, of course we do, but meaningless words are infinitely engaging. Look at the pretty rainbow – see all the happy genders.