Sunday, June 30, 2013

On Words

You are trapped on an island: there are many other islands standing in the ocean all about you, yet there is no way that you can reach those other islands. Thankfully, you have all that you need on your own patch of land in the water: fresh mangoes and coconut grow in great bounty in the jungles, while crabs line up at the shore, ready for you to cook. Yet you simply cannot quell your desire to reach those other islands, so like your own, but separated by an intangible but infinitely powerful force. You and the millions of other islands are not only separated by water, but by a pure incapacity in the ways of the universe.

Each of those islands is a human being, quagmired in their own psyche.

We cannot truly communicate with others: the bodily sensations, psychological trauma, emotions, even the tastes that come into contact with our tongues are impossible to accurately convey to other humans. That’s why language was invented: a way to conjure up ideas in the minds of other people in order to connect with them.

Still, language has its problems. It only roughly encapsulates the full scope of human thought. There are no words sufficient to describe everything, so we must use our words in conjunction with one another in just the right way to give someone a memory, something that they can relate to, and say “Yes! I understand that!"

But unless someone has knowledge of what is being communicated, all hope of connection is lost.

I love the idea of language’s evolution, of new words being invented to condense the array of words that were once combined to describe a concept, of original phrases coming into the language to describe something that did not exist yesterday. What is terrifying, however, is the possibility of losing meaning in language. I notice all of the time that the words envy and jealousy are used as though they are synonyms; they are not. Jealousy is spotting a woman wearing a handmade dress made of vintage fabric and looking down at your un-hemmed skirt made with fabric purchased off of the $1/yard rack at Walmart with a surge of self-loathing and a desire to do better. Envy is shooting the woman in the lungs and stealing the dress. It’s fantastic that these two words have different meanings that convey different feelings: the words jealousy and envy enrich our experience in the world by making it easier to describe things. But when jealousy and envy mean the same thing, all that you have is two words that mean the same thing, thereby making it just a bit more difficult to write a letter about that woman with the nice homemade dress made out of vintage fabric. You’ll have to put your pen to your chin and decide whether jealous or envious is more cute of a word.

The islands drift further apart.