Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Words Cannot Explain

I suspect that all of us have, at times, run into those whom words cannot describe, or at least, those who insist that words cannot describe them.

Are you liberal or conservative? No.

What kind of music/movies/books do you like? My tastes are really to eclectic to define.

Are you two dating? I think that phrase is very limiting. We're definately something, but dating is such an awkward term.

Indeed. Terms are awkward. A word or phrase is seldom comprehensive enough to describe the whole of something, and so one often must resort to describing it several times, in different ways, in order to get one's point across.

And yet, words -- however imperfect -- are how we convey meaning to our fellow men. To refuse to use them, or refuse to use them in common ways, eventually becomes a sort of linguistic anarchism.

One must agree that it is often silly to call the man a woman in her late twenties is romantically attached to her "boyfriend" -- a term perhaps better suited to the activities of high schoolers. And yet, rightly or wrongly, that is the most standard way to refer to such a connection.

Next to inapplicability, another objection often thrown at standard terms is that they are too ordinary to convey the amazing reality of one's life.

"We're not just 'going out'. It's so much deeper than that."

Indeed. Congratulations. But you see, the world is populated by people who imagine themselves to be so much deeper than that. They only look identical and trite in their relations because you are not they, and have no wish to be. A single word is used for all these relationships, not because they are all the same, but because it is necessary to have some term which captures the whole constellation of of such things in order to allow common conversation. Each snow flake is unique, yet even the Eskimos have a comparatively small number of words for snow.

The great time for this insistence that words cannot describe one's life seems to be high school and college. It's at that time when one feels oneself so very different from "all those normals". Over the following decade or two the insistence on uniqueness cools, not so much because all of those over thirty are reduced to clone status, but because one becomes aware that one is not the only person to be unique.

Evenutally, words have to suffice.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

This reminds me of something my Dad said to me a while back: "At some point I had to realize that my unique, special, one of a kind experience of the sixties was pretty much the same as everyone else's unique, special, one of a kind experience of the sixties."

j. christian said...

Your post reminds me of that passage from Heart of Darkness:

". . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence,--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream--alone. . . ."

So profound and so full of meaning to me when I first read it in my late teens. Its appeal has waned over the years as I fit together the pieces of my experience into the rest of reality. Ecclesiastes 1:9, anyone?

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

I love it when you discover a whole new range of descriptors for something, eg I learned a whole lot of new ways to describe rain when I was in Ireland. The one I liked best was the day I was told the weather was 'quite fine'. This did not mean it was sunny etc: it meant there was a light, gentle rain, not much more than a drizzle, but there was no wind, and it was quite warm.....

Kyle R. Cupp said...

"Indeed. Terms are awkward. A word or phrase is seldom comprehensive enough to describe the whole of something, and so one often must resort to describing it several times, in different ways, in order to get one's point across.

And yet, words -- however imperfect -- are how we convey meaning to our fellow men. To refuse to use them, or refuse to use them in common ways, eventually becomes a sort of linguistic anarchism."

Very well put.

You've hit upon what I think is a central issue for particular postmodern philosophies, which explore and seek to understand the consequences of the limits of language.