People Just Love To Play With Words

I love words. You can probably tell. So many of them spill over the screen after all. I try to ensure that I arrange them well enough that they make some kind of sense but I can’t always guarantee that. I’ll apologise now for anything more than usually obtuse.

I spend less time philosophising than I used to now I get sweaty so frequently. Unlike a Victorian Hearty, it’s not because I have no use for the aesthetic just that I don’t have the energy. When I did wonder about things, one of the things I wondered about was whether it’s possible to think about something if you didn’t have the language to describe it. It’s the notion behind Newspeak in 1984, after all. The Party was reforming language in its own image, to make deviation from the party’s imperative literally unthinkable and therefore impossible.

In spite of this there are things, emotions mostly, which we cannot always name and yet are real. I think the idea of emotional intelligence is to help us identify these emotions when we have them and therefore have more control over their expression. If you can identify the basic emotions of fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise and then control how the more complex social emotions such as jealousy emerge from them then you might not need to use so much time and so many words in dealing with the aftermath of a shitty situation.

I was listening to a podcast this week which was talking about gender differences in identifying emotions. I’ve forgotten which one so I can’t check the citations and I may be misremembering what was said. With those caveats… Young girls were capable of identifying a wider range of emotions in themselves than young boys. Young boys could only reliably identify anger as an emotion. Girls became better at identifying emotions as they became older but boys didn’t. However, both girls and boys were able to recognise the same range of emotions in their mothers. It would seem that boys were not willing to allow themselves to feel or admit to feeling the same range of emotions as girls but few boys displayed signs of sociopathy.

Playing with words in a political context is dangerous. Liberty and equality are enormous and enormously contested concepts. Individual liberty can infringe on communal rights after all and we need structures in place to guarantee some form of peace where the two are in conflict. Our own societies know what happens when lies become truth and truth is in turn contested.

And is there any objective truth anyway?

And now I’m doing it.

I was lying in bed one Saturday morning, years ago. My former partner and I were reading the papers and trying not to get toast crumbs on the clean sheets, bickering a bit, but amicably I thought, back and forth over some piece of nonsense in the Weekend Guardian. I can’t remember what triggered the real argument when it happened but it was over something that some other clever clogs had written that she read out and quite liked. I disagreed, probably with a disagreeable pun and she said said to me “You think you’re so clever, with all your words.” The thing is, I did. I do. The thing also is, she was more clever than me in practically every possible way that I was struggling to keep up. I thought her cleverness was as obvious to her as it was to me, to her family and her friends. She never played with her words so she never got to see how clever she was too. And I never told her how clever I thought she was in spite of that cleverness and shining bright intelligence being one of the things that attracted me in the first place.

You need to play with words, to find the joy in them just like you did when you were four or five or six and played in puddles, splashing around in your wellies. Were your wellies too big because you had inherited them or just got a new pair, or too small because your feet had grown two sizes since the last time you went out in proper mud and rain? Words are messy and have multiple meanings depending on who says them and when.

“I love you”

Saying that to your partner of many years is different from saying it for the first time. All the times you’ve said it before roll together creating a sea of emotion with waves of meaning and meanings.

Saying it when it isn’t true and your heart has almost stopped from the sadness of it all. Or saying it with a lack of care, or side-spun with sarcasm just to hurt.

Saying that drunk to someone, not necessarily your best mate. Cliche. Sorry. I should avoid them like the… Like an ague.

The same words, different contexts, different meanings. All a bit messy.

You can try to pin words down but even the simplest of words have become messy. I’m thinking here about she and her and trans and non-binary folk and nothing I say will improve the situation for anyone so I will say no more. Whereof I know nothing and all that.

Perhaps pinning down words like beetles in the Natural History Museum is a bad idea. Better to trap them in the leaves of poetry books, or let them skitter through children’s minds as they grow, telling them stories or reading to them.

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