It’s official. I–to use a delicate and especially eloquent term–blow at regular blog updating. Is it because I feel stretched thin between all the hard work I do at work (four hours a day is a long day indeed, after all, especially when it’s a mentally taxing job that involves filing paperwork, printing out certificates, invigilating English placement exams, sorting mail…I could go on…) and the hard work I do at my writing (essays don’t write themselves, obviously–as this blog is becoming a testament to!)? Or is it because Spring, in some strange and elusive guise, is finally, almost, sort of, here?
Words, Words, Words (again)
26 April, 2008 by Miranda Ward
Both, probably. Today I went out into the garden to drop some wilting lettuce into the compost bin and discovered that our neighbors have installed a trampoline in their garden, complete with a mesh border (so that exuberant jumpers can feel safer, even if they aren’t, really). It was so warm out that I considered lingering, maybe even sitting in the grass and reading. But I was afraid of the slugs (they crawl into your shoes when you’re not looking), and it wasn’t sunny. I just couldn’t get excited about a springtime saturday spent loafing in the garden without the sun. I came back inside, locked the back door, and set to work doing boring household things that make me feel as if I’ve accomplished more than I actually have (whoever came up with the idea of filing bank statements is a genius, as is the inventor of cleaning counters). Now I’m sprawled on the couch convincing myself that a run up the hill to Headington would be a good idea, and not a painful exercise in seeing how out of shape I really am, sipping tea, and feeling disgustingly pleased with myself. Lord, what would I be like if I actually accomplished things?
The other day at work, we wondered what the universal term for “I kissed him” would be. The office of an international school is a pretty good place to wonder this. Apparently a dutch girl had come in and asked how to say it: she’d used the term “hooked up,” a quintessentially American phrase, and been giggled at by her colleagues, who either didn’t recognize the meaning or automatically assumed that it referred to sex. All she had meant was that she had snogged the boy–except that “snog” is not a term you will ever hear, really, in America (or likely in other parts of the world except Britain). I, for one, spent a long time thinking that “hook up” was just another way of saying “make out,” until someone pointed out that common use of the word includes all the bases; then I started to use it that way, and now I can’t go back. Possibly she thought the same; until corrected.
She could have, my colleagues reasoned, said “got off with” except that this could conceivably also imply sex; she could say “got together with,” but this might not convey enough physical contact. And of course, she could have just said “kissed,” but where’s the fun in that? I wondered: where do these ridiculous rules come from? And how do we know where the line is, in any given phrase, between playing innocently in the dark and inhibitions-to-the-wind-sex is if we keep moving it? Why is “I slept with him,” or, “I shagged him” acceptable in friendly conversation, while, “I had sex with him” is only reserved for very serious discussions? And when you get a group of people together from all over the world, how on earth are you meant to communicate with such nuanced language? We invent these phrases to work for us; but we end up working for them.
If language is the chosen tool of the human race, why are we so crap at letting it get the best of us all the time? Why, when I have so many words, do I find it impossible to commit to committing them to paper with any regularity? They hide when I seek them; and come bubbling to the surface when I need them most to be subdued. A few cocktails in, I have all the words in the world at my fingertips, but my fingers are too clumsy to maneuver them; in the starkness of morning, I have the ability to sculpt at will, but find that either my will is gone, or the tools themselves have retreated into the darkness for a nap.
“What do you read, my lord?” said Polonious; and
“Words, words, words,” said Hamlet, alighting upon, in my opinion, one of the greatest truths in all of literature. And as if to prove the ridiculousness of words themselves Polonious then asks:
“What is the matter, my lord?” and Hamlet responds, (as he is well justified in doing!),
“I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.”
They say that God has a sense of humour; but so, I would argue, do words.