Sunday, March 06, 2016

Bad is Good, but Badder is Better

Imagine a world without one single fail, epic or otherwise, where you gave presents instead of gifting them.  Wasn't it just yesterday when there wasn't a genius toaster or tennis shoe in the world? Seems like that world never existed to most Americans, their Business or Journalism diplomas framed upon the wall.

So listen here kids, I'm going to tell you about a time - a time not so long ago when a macchiado would have sounded like something you'd get from a woman in black leather, and a barista was that floozie who was always still sitting  there at closing time. No, I'm not gonna tell you it was the good old days because those days were no better than these days, just different. Back then we laughed at out-of-date hipsters  who still started sentences with saaaay and ended them with seeee. We giggled at people who thought things might be swell instead of cool or maybe even neat. We laughed at people who still wore fedora hats or worse those little porkpie hats like Norton from the Honeymooners and we laughed all the harder when they turned the brim up like a total loser. Wear your hat indoors?  Hahahaha!  Not one science fiction writer ever imagined that there would be passionate arguments about whether your backwards hat should have a flat or curved brim or should be over-sized enough to cover your ears.

Once upon a time, not everything was awesome, you see.   Gilgamesh was epic, your lunch probably wasn't.

I heard some period drama recently in which a Victorian character says "the disease impacted her brain" and it was like an alarm going off.  We just don't remember how different our language was, or is it that directors are afraid of confusing the tattooed multitudes by saying it affected her mind?  and then there was the CNN News item about concussions impacting brains -- and said without a smile to indicate the news parrot recognizing that impacting the brain causes concussions.

No, really there was a time when people distinguished between because of and due to: a time when we waited for things and waiters waited on us. If my high school chum had talked about his selfie going viral or his tweet was trending on Twitter, he would have been sent to the school nurse, but it couldn't have negatively impacted on his record since that convoluted and pompous metaphor hadn't yet graduated from business school and shuffled toward CNN to be aired..

Sure, life has changed and so have the requirements of language.  Who needed to call his Timex an analog watch back when John Cameron Swayze showed us how rugged they were and digital meant something entirely different, particularly in the doctor's office, But do we have to confuse meaning with metaphor?  Do we have to accept manipulative marketing blather so eagerly? Do we have to make fools of ourselves trying to sound adolescent, to sound educated or just to sound hip?  Are all of those motivations internal or are they implanted to direct and misdirect thought, stifle perspective and make us pay ten bucks for a cup of coffee?  a Senator wants to refuse to do his job but keep his pay and benefits? A deserter wants to be commander in chief?  All things are possible when  we twist the language.

I remember a decade of hearing how history wasn't as important as "what's happening now baby" and the results of that is a population full of fake and distorted history.  Are we doing the same thing to English by stressing the primacy of slang and jargon and needless complexity posing as erudition?  Listen to a presidential "debate" and tell me why the barking of dogs is less meaningful. Could it be that Orwell's Newspeak is becoming a reality?  Is language being stripped of precision, are words being identified with their opposites and is the function of language to sell, to indoctrinate to simplify past the point of  incisive or trenchant protest?

Why do I keep hearing patriotism used as a synonym for gun ownership? Why does Liberal mean totalitarian and Conservative mean radical revolutionary and why do Family values mean intrusive Theocracy?  Why is a blastula a Baby? What does Organic mean? What does Processed mean? Why is universal healthcare Fascist and Communist at the same time?  Why is any war about fighting for our freedom?  Why is bad good and badder better? Is it for the same reason that war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance strength?

I suspect something of the sort and the fact that every English teacher I know thinks there should be no dictionaries and all that is required of them is to teach spelling and the proper use of possessive apostrophes, makes me wonder, and by "wonder" I mean I'm certain.

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