The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘language’

For Entertainment Purposes Only

Posted by BigWords on April 13, 2016

Has anyone else been watching the various programs on the supernatural currently doing the rounds? Have you noticed anything strange in their presentation to a (presumably) intelligent audience? If not, then this is where you start paying attention to the way in which you are led through the problematic area of “shows which we have to apologize for.” It is an annoying subset of programming etiquette, and one which needs an immediate reappraisal.

If you have been watching these shows and are at a loss to pinpoint any unease in the lead-in to these shows, then let me elucidate some of the lingering hesitation inherent in their showing.

Ever since the first ghost-hunting shows appeared, there has been a distinct lack of conviction in putting them in front of an audience. You may have noticed that message flashed up on screen stating that what follows is for entertainment purposes only, but… Why is this required? Do we get this before sitcoms? No. How about game-shows? Uh… Not there. Maybe kung-fu films, because we certainly wouldn’t want people getting kicked in the head because someone saw it done on television? Sorry, nope.

It is a form of discrimination, and one which continues to baffle me in how arbitrarily it is applied. Do we get the message before religious shows? If you know the answer to that question, then you know that there is a problem at the root of the phrase’s use. It’s too easy to take from the application of the statement that what follows such an announcement that there is a disconnect between broadcaster and program. Shows which air sans statement can, therefore, be taken as fact.

There are people reading this who, for whatever reason, aren’t going to care about the tradition. Some might expect it, and others may ignore it, but the fact that such a blatant distancing is still in effect needs at least a little examination. Surprisingly, when I was putting together my thoughts for this, the BBC – of all places – highlighted the problem in an unexpected way. The comment is at the bottom of this page.

I have long believed that mainstream news should have a label “for entertainment purposes only”.

You can’t argue with that.

Okay, so it is a comment on the internet, and we all know how easy it is to rattle off something when faced with a well-rounded, insightful article. But it got me to thinking about what else should be relegated to the status of ‘entertainment’ – why, for instance, don’t we get this before sporting events? Surely, if there is one category of broadcast which practically cries out for such a disclaimer it is the area of sports broadcasting. There’s little to no educational merit in watching horses running around a course.

And soccer. And, for that matter, F1. Really, we should just go whole hog and stick it in front of everything which appears on the idiot box. All of those police shows, the endless, mind-numbing antiques shows (yeah – nothing in those are raising the bar any), and even medical shows if the standards aren’t going to rise above mediocre. I could go on, but you can probably tell by now where this is going…

We need to talk about MTV. Long ago, hard as it may be to remember, they used to show music. Does anyone else remember that? It is in the name – that’s what the M stands for. I know they are doing lots of original programming, but that doesn’t excuse them from abandoning their core reason for existing. Why, I ask you, aren’t they flagging the message up at the end of every advertising break?

Man, this was meant to be a neat little break in the serious.

Okay, video time again. Just remember, these are all for entertainment purposes only…

Heh. Nobody else will be sleeping tonight.

Just sharing the love, people.

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Language,Words & Power

Posted by BigWords on April 3, 2016

There’s a long-held notion among varied peoples that words, specifically names, have a certain power – that by naming a thing you can exert power over the object itself. There’s a short story (Vernor Vinge, if memory serves) which has avatars in a Dungeons & Dragons type environment using words as spells, and NewWho has used the notion in “The Shakespeare Code” to rather spectacular effect. It’s interesting that so many cultures, across vast distances and throughout history, have come to the same ideas in amazingly similar descriptions.

Yet there’s something about that notion, the simple act of naming, which bothers me. For the last eight or nine years I have kept a little Latin grammar book near me. It is a reminder of an era in which these books used to be much more useful. I love the soft leather cover, the neat, orderly columns, the dainty, playful typeface which belies the utility of the text. It isn’t a flash book, or a particularly obvious text, but I love it all the same. Likewise, not three feet away sits a German dictionary from (I think) the fifties. Sturdy and utilitarian, it is everything that the Latin book isn’t – intended to be used for its purpose and no more.

I got my hands on an Italian phrasebook a few years ago which had the beautifully simple notion of illustrating words, and it was most likely the act of placing names to things in other languages which kicked off the trail towards a question which I still haven’t found an easy answer to: Is naming something the act of power, or is it the name? See, names are just a collection of sounds (or letters, which are illustrated depictions of sounds) which assist in everyone understanding that which needs to be communicated.

Lets back up a moment – the words you are reading here use the Roman alphabet, which comes to us through the Romans (no surprise there) who got their letters from the Etruscan people, who took inspiration from a flavor of the Greek alphabet, who got their letters from Phonecian texts. The words which the letters form are in English, which has a history that will make your head explode if you attempt to fully understand all of the various ways in which we got from Chaucer to here. Along the way we picked up arbitrary rules, style guidelines and (eventually) deconstructionist tendencies in *ahem* certain quarters.

Which is to say: the words we use, day to day, aren’t ours. Not on a personal level. We share these words, and combine them; we play with words and see how far we can move them until they break. The World Wide Web isn’t a web, the Internet isn’t a net (and isn’t it rather amusing that both webs and nets catch things?), but we accept these words to describe that which has no physical presence. And as we name these things, we take control over them.

While we share certain words with other languages, and accept translations, we are no closer to true names. Unlike those who posit Latin names as being authentic (no, they are the scientific names), and despite attempts by some at tracing the roots of words back to the earliest forms, I am still not convinced that anything we can use now has the power which supposedly comes from the naming convention.

Which raises the question: what kind of a name would inanimate objects call themselves? For that matter, do animals have names they call each other? Is an arbitrary name imposed externally as valid as a name which something innately possesses?

You can probably tell, by these posts, why it isn’t wise for me to be alone with my own thoughts for a prolonged period of time…

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It’s Not My Fault If You’re Not Up To Speed

Posted by BigWords on August 6, 2009

I’m going to throw around a few thoughts which have been cropping up again and again in the last few weeks. It’s not a complaint about the lack of deciphering abilities people are capable of, whatever it may seem like…

There’s a good chance you will have come across words, phrases or concepts which are tough to place into context, and I usually form an unnatural attraction to these types of English usages. There will be examples in a moment, though I want to start off with the reasons I twist the language to suit my needs, because it might seem that I’m being deliberately obscure. I’m not. I love new words, and I really love new usages of old words.

“Magpie” is something I use a lot. To magpie is, rather than simply stealing, to use a core conceit or concept from an established work, or to use a moment from my own experiences. I don’t like “steal” because it’s uncomfortably close to “plagiarize”, and that is verbotten, so I use magpie instead. A similar thought usage for the “take the temperature”, which really should be accepted by most people, is a description of popular opinion.

I gotta take the temperature on prologues for my WIP

This has been used by enough people that I really needn’t be forced to explain it, but some people give me ‘the look’ when I use the phrase. Also, as can be seen above, I throw around a few words from other languages, and if you need those explained, well… lets just say that there are books out there that you really shouldn’t try reading. Especially Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange. I used “moloko” in place of “milk” for about a year after reading Orange, so you have been warned.

A current favorite is The Weave. You’re staring at that sentence, trying to think of what it could mean, but you’re looking at it right now. The weave ties the world together, streaming the good and the bad, tying us all together. It really isn’t fair to the current incarnation of the internet to lump it in with the pre-www.webname.com/co. stuff, so we have to view it as separate with a new term for it’s abilities. Weave seems as good a word as any.

Pop culture plays into my vocabulary as much as literature or trad English usage. “Groovy” was imprinted on my brain the first time I saw Evil Dead II, and I have been known to use nyuk-nyuk-nyuk after watching The Three Stooges. There is a lot of words now considered to be part of the English language, but the proliferation of words only causes problems when someone (normally this would be me) uses a word which has different meanings.

I’m not trying to confuse anyone deliberately, and I have gone out of my way to avoid using certain phrases here.

“Static” is another word which I use liberally, as in: “Quit giving me static.” I know, I know… So not proper usage of the word, and bordering on annoying.

Just think yourselves lucky that I haven’t written a post in slang, or Polari, or 1337… No, I don’t use Leet normally, but if you want to confuse people it is better than Caesar cypher. The old ‘add egg to every word’ also works well to create new words.

…and I got to thinking of fictional languages when I was pondering my own vocabulary. Klingon and Elvish (from Tolkien) are the two best known fictional languages, and yet they exist in isolation, unlike our own languages. You can trace Italian and Spanish back to Latin (and there is a substantial amount of overlap in words) though it is impossible to see the origins of fictional languages. I’m surprised no-one has seen this.

Does my use of certain words constitute a shift in English? No. There would need to be a large-scale use of the words before they are considered English, and I doubt that the ways I like to bend the rules of word-form will come easily to others. Is it still acceptable to use fictional words, or words out of context? Yes, absolutely. You’ll find that the hold-outs are going to be people from schools and colleges who despise any butchery of the language; but remember… Shakespeare changed English with his work.

As long as I keep writing, I’m not going to help myself but to use fragments. And start with ‘and’. Or throw in some unusual voxy.

Keep paying attention, because you never know when I might coin a brand new word.

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