Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Death Sentences and Aptly Spoken Words: (this may perhaps dreadfully bore)


In my rush to finish the books I started this summer, I have been reading a book called Death Sentences by Don Watson. Watson's thesis is that the language of management, cliches, and overused expressions are "strangling public language." This book intrigues me. I partially resonate with his thesis. Reflecting on education and language, Watson writes,



If we picked up a feeling for the language it was in English Literature--In the English and Australian poets...in the Austen and Dickens we labored through; but especially Shakespeare. Shakespeare was the best thing they gave us. Julius Caesar, Macbeth, King Lear, and a couple of the sonnets burrowed their way in and took up residence in our inhospitable souls. We never saw the plays performed or even heard them read, but the words came off the page and struck. It was the one hint we had that there were mysterious powers in language: that beautifully arrange words could liberate, possess, bewilder, and intoxicate. They contained revelations. They could extend a person. There was pleasure in just reciting them.

If I could write curriculum, I would begin with language: from the first hour of the first day at school, and every day thereafter for twelve years, children would study the beautiful arrangement of words...Saved from the advanced objective of modern English...they might remember poetry, drama, and ideas, remain aware of the word's potential, and loathe dead language all their lives. (25-26)

I find myself agreeing with Watson. Language is a gift. Hearing and speaking certain combinations of words sometimes has mysterious and entrancing effects. Recovering a love of language might just prove an antidote for more than one strand of melancholy. The question becomes, Can this actually happen? In the vernacular of our society, much public discourse consists of IMs, myspace blurbs, and text messages. Does the blogosphere help remedy or further agitate this problem? Can we recover, does it matter, and how is this possible? Is this language curriculum viable?

In the latter half of the book, Watson waxes political and uses his diatribe against the paucity of public language as a way to criticize, among other things, the Bush Administration, conservatism, the business world, and the puritans (which always riles me :o). However, when he sticks with his discussion of language, Watson remains insightful and intriguing. It is worth the read.

He concludes, "Words can be like notes, like expressions of the soul. They can make our hair stand up, they can lift our understanding to a higher plane, make us see things differently. They can inspire love and hope. You can see it happen before your eyes. Words can create a magic halo. But they have to have some thought or sentiment attached, and, like notes, be skillfully arranged" (140).


I think there is something spiritual about language. Words carry unparalled weight. We must use them wisely. They are gifts. As Christians, we are people of the book. A book filled with words. Therefore, we must love words even as we love the Word.
Here's to skillfully arranging words!


A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.
A man finds joy in giving an apt reply--
and how delightful is a timely word.
(Proverbs 25:11, 15:23)


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