Sunday, November 10, 2019

Linguistic Slack

What word can we use today?

15 men from Preston Plucknett, at the time a village of just a few hundred, died in the first world war. 232 men and women from Yeovil died in the 2 wars combined. And that is a drop in the ocean compared to the (literally) countless millions who died across the globe. We simply don't know, it could be 100 million, a few million more, or a few million less.

How do we describe that? Many vicars and service leaders today will be turning to poetry, and all of us will be turning to silence.

Language tends to get hyper-inflated during an election campaign. Add that to our growing culture  of conversing in feelings and interpretations (usually highly personal ones), and that's a toxic brew for anyone who values meaning.

In his TED talk 'How to speak so that other people will want to listen', Julian Treasure asks 'Exaggeration: it demeans our language - if I see something that really is awesome, what do I call it?' A few years earlier, Jesus put it this way: "Let your yes be yes, and let your no be no, anything beyond this comes from the evil one". Embroidering our language, exaggerating for effect, ultimately renders language useless. God is a communicating God, his first act is to speak creation into being, and part of being in God's image is the ability to communicate. Without truthful, clear language, communication, and ultimately relationships, are impossible.

Remembrance Sunday reminds us of lots of things. Maybe it reminds us too to leave ourselves some linguistic slack. Whatever we are tweeting our response to, whatever x or y is supposed to have said or done which cuts across our interests or personal space, it is minor compared to 100 million deaths. We cannot use the same language about it, or its perpetrators. For example, you aren't a fascist or a Stalinist, you're just someone who thinks the state should be slightly less, or slightly more, involved in taxation and spending.

Lets rediscover adjectives which de-escalate strife, rather than those which amplify it. The Great British Understatement deserves a comeback, because there are only a few things which are truly worthy of our most extreme language, and fewer still to which the only true response is silence.

1 comment:

  1. The beginning of Genesis gives a fine example of not using exaggerated language. It beings 'in the beginning God..' not 'in the beginning the great big awesome God...' Then God's first 'words' are 'let there be light'. Not an adjective in sight, but what a powerful communication, both in the light it created and in its ability to stir the imagination of anyone who has ever perceived light.