For the love of languageBy Leigh Terry | 09/24/2015 1:59pm
Laugh at me if you will, but today I am writing a column about writing.
For as long as I can remember, I have adored the use of language: reading it, writing it and conversing in it. I have reveled in books and newspapers and even the Sunday “funny papers” since I learned how to put my ABC’s into sentences.
I write now because I think college students have grown scared of language. While I am partially referring to political correctness, I think our fear is much broader than that. I think we are scared of the fact that language reveals our imperfections. Language at its most authentic reveals to the world hints of how we think, how we were raised, where we were raised and what we think about.
These imperfections, however, are what make language personal in style and character. A person with a perfect command of language would be the dullest person in the history of the world.
My language is imperfect and revealing. The simplicity of my speech occasionally reveals the simplicity of my thought processes shaped by the simplicity of my town. My flowery run-on sentences occasionally reveal a pretension to overcome that simplicity and be thought of as eloquent by my peers. My love of witty banter and verbal double speak reveals my favorite subversive way to play with the “stiff upper lip” traditions of the South.
The imperfections of my speech are why I never want anyone to parse every word I express. While words are important and have power individually, their greater importance is in a forest of conversation, and we must not overlook the forest for the trees.
It is also important to remember the vocabulary of the English language is not black and white; the use of its many terms is not inherently good or evil. The most uplifting of individual words, like “rights,” “freedoms,” “security” and “protection” have been strung together for the darkest of purposes. These are just a few of the words that have been used to justify torture, illegal detention of criminal suspects, warrantless electronic surveillance, slavery, segregation and bigotry. The darkest of words, words that I am not even allowed to print in this publication, have been used by authors and public speakers such as Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Frederick Douglass, and as recently as last week by Missouri Students Association President Payton Head to illuminate important truths. Dark words have been used to make brighter futures.
It is not their vocabulary alone but their context that makes a series of words—a conversation, an article, a play, a book—matter.
On that note, I would like to remind the members of this campus: your series of words matter to me. As Opinions Editor of our campus’ newspaper, my goal is for this page to be both a catalyst and a mirror to your conversation. My goal is to reflect your thoughts and lead your peers to consider new ones as well. I can only achieve this goal when you make your voices known.
So for the love of language, write to me. Don’t be scared of showing this community how you think because the imperfections of your language may push this campus to be a little closer to perfect itself.
Leigh Terry is the Opinions Editor of The Crimson White. Her column runs weekly