The Bastardization of Language, the Vicissitudes of Life, and Waterloo: An E-mail Exchange Between Ed Duvin and Gary Corseri
[Editor’s Note: Remember letters?
In my wayward youth, people–especially those of a literary persuasion–spent a fair bit of time composing letters, often written out in “long hand.” A few among the tribe of literati even read books of letters, as in “The Life and Letters of John Ruskin”; or, “The Poems and Letters of John Keats”–moaning with Keats over Fanny’s flightiness (in Keats’ consumptive perception), or glad to have his insights on “negative capability.”
That, of course, was long ago, in another age. Now we rush out e-mails, the faster the better, fleet fingers blithely mis-tapping keys, making for a risible orthography–and who in his or her right (or left hemisphered) mind would ever think of “composing” one? Especially between friends. …
But, sometimes one gets lucky. … A pearl drops through the electronic ether. A question ignites a thought, which fires synapses in return. Then, a little e-mail exchange can work like stimulating conversation–spontaneously and thoughtfully.
The poet, Kierkegard tells us, is one whose mouth is shaped in such a way that when he opens it to cry, he makes a beautiful sound that others want to hear. Writers, I think, are simply people whose conversations with themselves and with others, most of us would like to overhear. On some rare occasions then, I’d like to invite readers to the table, to share the repast of good talk. Herewith then, a little “overheard” conversation between Cyrano’s Editor-at-Large, Ed Duvin, and yours truly.
–Gary Corseri, Associate Editor, Cyrano’s Journal Online.]
A Brief Exchange on Language
Just a quick question.
Not that we’ve discussed the subject, but it’s manifestly evident from your prose that you share my love of the lexicon. Not that I’m a purist, but I bemoan the current trend of diminishing all standards of accepted usage. If a rule is violated often enough, or a word commonly misused, grammarians increasingly respond by simply lowering the bar. This is hardly a matter of cosmic consequence in a world unraveling by the millisecond, but the bastardization of the language does tend to rile. … Does it annoy you as well?
Bastardization of the language does indeed annoy me.
I cringe at the way “like” seems to have colonized every sentence in the teen and twenty-something lingo. (I think it has even eclipsed “you know”!)
On the other hand, one can’t be a purist. Mere change is not a problem. The Beats, for example—Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Kerouac, et. al.–were very inventive, opened up our language from what had preceded them. They taught our generation to think in new terms, new ways. In response to them, we’ve had neoconism in academia for over 30 years now—with movements like “New Formalism” in poetry and “Structuralism” in criticism. As usual, the purists go way overboard. It’s the bastardization of thought that most concerns me. That bastardization can actually smell like formalism.
I like to think that English—this most fluid, flexible, nimble, honed tongue—will change dramatically over the next 20 years, change for the better thanks to the influx of Spanish. I think we’re fated to meld these two beautiful languages into something new and reviving.
But, before we get there, our ears will take a drubbing, and our teens will pop out in pimples before they can express, you know, like, like … the mot juste!
Agreed on all counts. I was referring to the evisceration of language through syntactical abuse and other forms of nonsense, such as the teen lingo that you cite, not dialectical change. That I welcome. I also share your belief that the influx of Spanish will, in time, have a pronounced and beneficial effect on English.
As a kid, moving from Socrates to Hegel to Marx, the dialectic shaped much of my thinking. I recall the first time that I read Hegel’s Philosophy of History, which marked my initial recognition that everything is transient and finite. There has always been strong pushback to change from formalists, who are only comfortable in the security of familiar surroundings. When Einstein’s general theory of relativity turned Newtonian thinking on its head in 1915, Einstein was widely pummeled by renowned scientists until the 1919 eclipse proved the precision of his calculations. The reasons for this resistance are many and varied, as you well know, and Dostoyevsky placed fear of change itself at the top of the list. … The vicissitudes of life are such that making plans often seems like an exercise in folly.
Thanks for your insights. Always helpful.
I especially like and feel this: “The vicissitudes of life are such that making plans often seems like an exercise in folly.”
But we are always dreaming/scheming/planning, aren’t we? And often it seems the most clever, creative, successful among us do the most of it. When our plans/dreams/schemes are consonant with the world’s drift, we applaud ourselves. And then, as often as not, a Waterloo arrives–and we might spend years after, unto death after, fighting the same battle, wondering what sort of things we might have done differently.
We’re “curious” beings in both senses of the word!
[Ed Duvin and Gary Corseri are, respectively, the Editor-at-Large and the Associate Editor of Cyrano’s Journal Online.]