Since Wayne is out and about working on clearing his mother’s apartment, I figured I would just throw up a few thoughts that recently came to mind regarding communication.
I think that all of us can agree, without false humility, that each of us in our little group here is well above average when it comes to communicating our thoughts and opinions on national, global, and universal topics. Whether we’re all highly educated or not (i.e., I only have one year of college, while many of you have actual degrees), we have one very basic thing in common: an understanding that each and every word we use has its own particular history and evolution, and therefore its own uniquely particular meaning. We revel in the ability to express ourselves as exactly as possible, and the fact that any one of us Zoosters is capable of writing something so eloquent that it pierces mind and heart is one of the many characteristics that brought us, and continues to keep us, all together.
Of course, searching one’s mind for that perfect word or phrase is not always easy, and I’m sure that, at times, each of us experiences the dissatisfaction of having to resign ourselves to the limitations of language.
This idea was brought home to me this morning, when I was reading an email from my sister. (Background note: none of my family has been very good about communicating with each other, and my sister and I have been the worst. In the olden days, she would talk to mum every weekend, and mum would pass the conversation along. Since our parents died [and the world became a darker and colder place – it was December of 2004, just after the Bush re-election] we’ve become even worse.) I had sent my sister, Anne, belated birthday wishes, and I had lamented that my upcoming birthday, when I will turn 60, was too depressing to think about. In part of Anne’s response to me, she wrote,
“… sixty is so far in my rearview mirror, I…admit thinking it’s right in your face that you aren’t young anymore…But it also made me think about what is important to me and how not to add to my list of regrets. Those sentences took me about ten minutes and still sound more philosophical than I intend. It was more like: YIKES! I could live to a hundred or I could be done and I better get on the case.”
Those few sentences alone told me so much more about my sister than most of our few face-to-face conversations. I realized a long time ago that we were very much alike in many ways, most particularly in our sarcastic/sardonic/sometimes waspish sense of humor, but it had never really occurred to me that we shared the same innate desire to express ourselves as precisely as possible. I won’t bore you more with personal baggage, but her phrase “how not to add to my list of regrets” truly struck home with me.
Moving on to another area of communication…
At work the other day, one of the women in Sales & Marketing was complaining about new requirements and restrictions that the chain drug stores (we deal with Walgreens, Wal-Mart, CVS, etc.) were demanding regarding the wording on our products’ packaging. As you know, the company for which Wayne and I work sell footcare products for various problems such as corns, calluses, bunions, heel pain, etc. Naturally, our packaging includes descriptions of the benefits that each product provides, along with instructions for use and care of the product. The chain stores, for some unknown reason, want us to eliminate much of this. Now, our customers range from medical professionals to dancers, athletes, everyday workers who stand all day, veterans, and so on, and they sometimes include some of the dumbest people on the face of the earth. I don’t know if the chain stores mistakenly believe that dumbing down the packaging information will broaden our products’ appeal, or what, but they pretty much want us to boil our wording down to “Use this, feet feel better” without saying how or why.
Which brought me around to a topic that we’ve much discussed, the use of language by conservatives politicians and pundits. Let me just take two examples of conservatives who have used their understanding of language to make a living in politics, William Safire and Frank Luntz.
In the before-time when my parents got the Sunday New York Times, mum and I shared two favorites: the crossword puzzle, of course – we took turns working on it, and it always irritated me that mum would use a pen while I used a pencil – and Safire’s column “On Language.” His column helped fuel my already keen interest in words and their origins which has obviously stayed with me all of my life. So regardless of William Safire’s conservative faults, and they are many, I have to thank him for his influence on my life.
Not so Frank Luntz. Luntz has been a snake-oil salesman who has used his language skills on a national level, poisoning the political conversation in order to mislead the voting populace. Luntz has taken words, language, and twisted them into meanings that they were never meant to have, using his ‘force’ for evil instead of good. At least William Safire, in his column, wanted to educate people on the use of language; Frank Luntz has no such interest, rather, he uses his power to blur the lines between good and bad, one of the best examples of which is the title “The Clear Skies Initiative.” In my opinion, this type of wordsmithing (too grand a word for what Luntz does, but technically correct), has snowballed to the point that, now, conservatives’ speeches are a combination of big words that say nothing and stone-age grunts of “left – BAD.” I hold him personally responsible for much of destruction of our political discourse which has brought our country to its present state of Idiocracy.
Okay, enough of my words, let’s hear yours.
This is our daily Open Thread – communicate!