I love language. You’d expect that, from a former English major — but since I spent a lot of time in band as well (football was invented to have a reason for the half-time show — you do know that, don’t you?), I also love the music of language. The flow of it, the rhythms, the way the word choices tell you about the speaker. It’s gorgeous stuff.
When MiLady first brought home V for Vendetta, I have to admit I wasn’t all that interested; yet another graphic-novel-turned-movie, which I hadn’t heard much about. But the moment V started speaking, I found myself ignoring the laptop and putting my chin in my hand and absorbing his language. It’s beautiful stuff, though not for the faint-hearted — he uses a lot of “five dollar words” — but the rhythm and flow was beautiful, and he had Good Words to say. (In our house, “Good Words” means great thoughts. It comes from The Wrath of Khan, of all places. “Just words,” says Captain Kirk. “But Good Words,” says his son; “That’s where Ideas begin.”) The entire movie is full of Good Words and Good Thoughts and beautiful language. I highly recommend it.
Because I have this little language fetish, when I saw a link go by on FriendFeed titled, “Don’t Mind your Language,” I had to check it out. It was written by a British comedian named Stephen Fry; the name was familiar, but not recognized by my swiss cheese brain (you know — full of holes) until I recognized the picture in his banner — he was in V for Vendetta! If you’ve seen it, you’ll remember him as the talk show host taken away for his sense of humor and killed for his love of beauty. I’m sure he has a much more extensive resume — I just haven’t seen any of it. But I love his writing.
He asks some basic questions — “Is language being degraded, is it not what it was? Is there a right way to express yourself and a wrong? Grammar, does that exist, or is it a pedantic imposition? . . . Can we translate from one tongue into another without irreparable loss?” He draws a distinction between the language itself and the idea of language; he talks about his own version of English and where it came from; and he brings up the pleasure of language as being just as important (for some of us, anyway) as the information it contains. It’s a long article, and I’ll never do it justice; but you really ought to go and read it. It will make you think about the way that you use language, and (if you get uptight about using it ‘properly’) show you that just because the language is evolving it doesn’t mean it’s ‘wrong.’ Here’s the paragraph that sums up his thoughts best for me:
But above all let there be pleasure. Let there be textural delight, let there be silken words and flinty words and sodden speeches and soaking speeches and crackling utterance and utterance that quivers and wobbles like rennet. Let there be rapid firecracker phrases and language that oozes like a lake of lava. Words are your birthright. Unlike music, painting, dance and raffia work, you don’t have to be taught any part of language or buy any equipment to use it, all the power of it was in you from the moment the head of daddy’s little wiggler fused with the wall of mummy’s little bubble. So if you’ve got it, use it. Don’t be afraid of it, don’t believe it belongs to anyone else, don’t let anyone bully you into believing that there are rules and secrets of grammar and verbal deployment that you are not privy to. Don’t be humiliated by dinosaurs into thinking yourself inferior because you can’t spell broccoli or moccasins. Just let the words fly from your lips and your pen. Give them rhythm and depth and height and silliness. Give them filth and form and noble stupidity. Words are free and all words, light and frothy, firm and sculpted as they may be, bear the history of their passage from lip to lip over thousands of years. How they feel to us now tells us whole stories of our ancestors.
Isn’t that just gorgeous? And, I hope, inspirational!