The 21st century has given us many new words — for example, selfie — most of which make me cringe (in fact, simply typing the word “selfie” made me want to wash out my mouth with soap).
I love words: the way they envelop you in a novel, or soothe you in a song, or captivate you on the silver screen.
It astounds me to think that every conversation, every thought, and every story, are nothing more or less than different combinations of only 26 letters.
And those letters are just lines and scribbles that we, somehow, give meaning.
To me, words — and the power we give them — are a kind of wonderful magic.
And yet, I look at language nowadays. So many modern words leave a terrible taste behind — the aforementioned “s” word, as I call it, reminds me of dirty socks soaked in vinegar.
I hear modern songs (“Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday / Today is Friday, Friday), and see posts on Facebook (weekend comeing up, were gonna partay), and I wonder if that is our future. Are we really the same species who gave the world: “Now is the winter of our discontent?”
But comparing and complaining is easy. It’s like pointing to the sky and saying a cloud looks like a cotton ball.
So rather than lamenting the language that has been lost, I would like to take a moment to polish those gems which still exist.
Here are a couple of my personal favorites:
• “Looking for Alaska” author John Green wrote, “So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”
• “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak has the line: “The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.”
But luckily, authors are not the only ones who have a way with words. Some singers still have more than “yeah,” “baby” and “ooh” in their lyrics:
• In “Come to Me,” The Goo Goo Dolls sing, “Come to me with secrets bare / I’ll love you more so don’t be scared / When we’re old and near the end / We’ll go home and start again.”
• The FUN song “Carry On” has the chorus: “If you’re lost and alone / Or you’re sinking like a stone / Carry on / May your past be the sound / Of your feet upon the ground / Carry on.”
And I am also happy to say movies, despite the seemingly endless promiscuity and special effects, can still give characters meaningful speeches:
• In “Saving Mr. Banks,” Walt Disney, portrayed by Tom Hanks, says, “That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again.”
• And, of course, nothing beats a good villain speech, like the Joker’s in “The Dark Knight:” “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos.”
What powerful language.
To me, it is astounding that we, as humans, can illustrate such complex ideas in a way that is also somewhat melodic.
Green could have simply said: I was boring and she was exciting.
FUN could have sung: If you’re going through a hard time, don’t give up.
And the Joker’s speech could have been summed up in only four words: I like things crazy.
But they didn’t. Instead, the writers chose words that somehow meant something even more: drizzle and hurricane, carry on, anarchy and chaos.
And again, all of those are just lines on paper or sounds in the air that we have, miraculously, given meaning.
I would argue that, ultimately, that is what defines humanity: We strive for, create, and discuss meaning.
And, who knows, perhaps one day “brb” and “lol” will have some hidden meaning that I can’t comprehend now. Shakespeare, himself, was famous for making up words.
Perhaps we are just modern Shakespeares.
Or perhaps Shakespeare would shake his head at our word mutations.
It is impossible to know what the future will bring, but one thing is certain: We will leave behind our stories and our speeches, our songs and our plays, our reports and our articles.
We will leave behind our words.
Sarah Allen may be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.