"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Monday, May 31, 2010

Precision of Language, Please

In the book, The Giver, a utopian society is architectured around community, efficiency, and politeness. Children are chastised for saying "I'm starving!" when what they meant to say is, "I'm hungry." Because of this push for precision, absolutes and extremes of feeling have fallen away from their vernacular almost entirely; so much so that the main character, Jonas, is admonished by his parents for asking "Do you love me?" They look at him, shocked by his foolishness, and bark, "Precision of language, please!" In their world, love is a word without meaning; they are as incapable of feeling love as they are in using the word itself. It is outdated, foreign in their mouths and in their hearts.

Is fiction so different than reality?

The word love has lost its meaning. Not from limitation or underusage--quite the opposite. 'Love' is in our mouths so much that it might as well be the same word for 'dinner' or 'sleep' or 'sock.' We use the same word to describe our feelings for pizza as we do our spouse. I love you. What does that phrase even mean anymore? It means I have an above average response to you. It means I enjoy the way you make me feel. It means I adore the way they have seasoned the crust on this Sicilian style pie.

I say we place a moratorium on the word 'love' for awhile.

The ancient Greeks had a complex, more comprehensive way of expressing love in their language. They understood 4 types of love: storge (affection), eros (erotic; being 'in love'), philia (friendship), and agape (unconditional, God-like love). Certainly these words lack the fluid quality of our English counterpart; 'storge' doesn't roll off the tongue like 'love' does. But if we adopted them into our vernacular, they could possibly enable us to evaluate our feelings with a little more consideration rather than sweeping them under that giant and complicated welcome mat we call love.

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