Monday, September 7, 2009

What Do We Mean When We Say What We Say?

If you read these posts on a regular basis you have every reason to believe “The Sage” is totally consumed by politics and the continuing struggle between Progressive and Conservative ideologies. To some degree that’s true. I am intrigued by the Yin and Yang of our two party system and the broad spectrum of ideas and values the system has spawned. But not today. No politics. I have a different “issue” to rail about today; the issue of the inadequacy of the English language.

As an undergrad I was an English major and I must admit that even though I am a terrible typist and punctuation isn’t my strong suit, I am a committed grammar and vocabulary snob. And nothing irritates me more than the overuse of certain words to the point at which they’ve lost their original meaning or their ability to convey intent, depth, intensity or difference. Take the word “great” for instance.

The folks who compile Webster’s Dictionary tell us that “great” means, among other definitions, “remarkable or outstanding in magnitude, degree or extent.” Yet consider the use of the word ‘great’ when it comes to sports and sports announcers. In that context a routine backhanded snag by a third baseman going to the hole and then making a long throw to first is hailed as a “great play.” The commonplace 15 yard reception by a wide-out going across the middle and reaching above his head to make the grab is acclaimed as a “great catch” and is usually accompanied by the exclamation that the quarterback made a “great throw.” And, the three-point shot launched from just beyond the line never touching the rim as it drops cleanly through the net is, expectedly, described by every basketball color-man these days as “great.” So, if all these routine sports feats are great what word do we use to describe the feats that are truly “remarkable or outstanding”? I simply don’t know. That's what I mean by the inadequacy of our language.

Then there is the problem of the word “love”. Wow, talk about words that are overused to the point of confusion and lack of clarity, intensity and depth, the word “love” leads the list. Another look at Webster’s lets us know that love is generally intended to mean “an intense affection for another person. . .” Yet somehow in our modern world we love our dog. We love football or baseball or hockey. We love Thai food. We love our kids, our sibs, our parents and grandparents. We love God and God loves us. We love the color red or blue or green. We love Oreos, chocolate ice cream and a really good donut. We love old Scotch and fresh beer. We love our friends. We love our jobs and our officemates. We love our cars and our homes. We love roses. We love the seashore and the ski slopes. And, yes, we even love politics.

In fact, there’s hardly anything we don’t “love” anymore. But if we love all these things –some significant, some not– what term do we reserve for that person for whom we have an “intense affection”? How do we tell them that affection is different yet greater than the affection we have for our dog, or our kids or- - - Oreos? What do we say to the one individual in our lives who excites, energizes and inspires us? What do we say to the person who is the intense focus of that affection? What do we say to the only person who fills the hole in our soul and heals us? Somehow, “I love you” just seems to lack depth and intensity and doesn’t convey the difference between adoring someone and simply liking them. But until a better word comes along, “love” will have to do. So, when you say "I love you" to that person who invades your dreams and is the face on all your fantasies – make sure you say it with the depth and intensity that cannot be mistaken for something less.



Anonymous said...

Great one, Sage... I loved it! tee hee

The Sage of Tampa said...

Thanx, NT. Your comments are always valued- - -even the 'giggly' ones.

kat's nips said...

I, too, often ponder language, especially the overuse of certain words and phrases, and I agree with you completely about these in particular. I also fret a good deal about made up words, like "horrific" which is overused and nothing less than the bastardization of English. Of course, who am I to criticize? One of my English professors used it constantly...hmm...well, frequently...?

justme73 said...

That is why I always tell Josh, "I adore you."

Tonya Gray said...

That is why we reserve saying those three words for times that we are truly touched and fully feel the affection for one another - that way it has clear distinction from the every day, still wonderful, things we do for one another and say to one another. Our actions always show our feelings, as well as the tone of our words. We've found it isn't something we need to say often, but when we do we know it is a truly special feeling we are experiencing.