Saturday, July 11, 2009

Language Usage

Thank you for inviting me to contribute to this (rather wonderful) blog about life after 60.

Those who don't share this time-perspective have a hard time understanding what we're talking about, nevermind what we're actually saying! And if they do grasp a point or two, it often doesn't seem to mean much to them. For the younger people (yes, I remember being very young) the world hasn't changed at all - yet.

Boy, do they have a treat in store.

So it's good to talk to people who remember the 1950's and 1960's fondly. (well, except for having to whiten bucks and starch crinolines.) I remember buying records that could actually break if you dropped them. And I remember going weeks and even months at a time without encountering even mild invective used in public or in books for that matter.

In a previous entry on this blog,
Geezer-Chick pointed out a problem that I've encountered more and more often these days. People don't say what they mean, and it may be due to not knowing HOW to say what they mean.

Geezer-Chick wrote:
Disagreeing does NOT make me an Idiot

I've become distressed about a recent trend in language usage. A new definition of idiot, moron, and similar terms has come into common use. That definition? Anyone who disagrees with the speaker. I've heard Nobel Prize winners decried as idiots. Talented artists as morons, and mentally deficient.

Well, I'm going to disagree a little with Geezer-Chick (a dangerous pastime, the years have taught me).

I don't think the evidence that I've seen supports the idea that the changing definition of idiot, moron and other derogatory terms flung as destructive labels, really has to do with simple disapproval.

I think the flinging of weapon-words at someone who dares to venture a different opinion is a knee-jerk reflex to being made to feel helpless.

There's a principle at work here that I have seen evidenced far and wide.

A human who KNOWS something, but doesn't know how they came to know that thing, who didn't arrive at that opinion by by their own meticulous reasoning, can not defend their position.

The human mind can't construct a proof on the fly for an opinion that they did not personally derive from facts which they themselves verified.

Thus any challenge to that KNOWLEDGE hits as life-threatening. And the response is inarticulate fear-fight-flight.

Or worse. Subconsciously, they may remember acquiring the opinion from someone they love (father, mother, grandfather) -- from someone they treasure. Disagree with an opinion absorbed with a mother's love and you MUST be put in your place because you have attacked that mother and disproved that love.

If you turn out to be right and the loving mother inculcated an incorrect opinion, then it follows that the love itself did not exist. Nobody who really loves you will lie to you.

Such opinions imbibed with "mother's milk" are sacrosanct. They are the axioms in our reasoning universe and don't need proof. If you disagree you are a moron or less. You can't deny that the sun shines, gravity pulls on you, and mother is right. Mother's opinions are non-falsifiable hypotheses, like faith in God.

Of course, with the teen years that attitude is submerged by the unfurling ego. But submerged is the key concept. The attitudes that are imbibed with love submerge into the subconscious and lurk there to then condition and control the behavior toward the next generation. Those attitudes lurk and persist for 4 generations.

So the response to disagreement isn't what we used to expect when we were growing up in a school system that put a premium on learning to use the correct word, to avoid invective because it's imprecise not because it's impolite, and believe what we believe for reasons.

The response to a challenge to one's inherited opinions is vicious counter-attack or even destruction (character assassination). No one can gain respect by denying parental love was real (even if the person knows for a fact that their parents never did love them, nobody else is allowed to say so and get respect for that opinion).

The cure for this creeping social ill of imprecise language has to be more language instruction, the earlier the better.

We need to summon a cultural value that places a premium on accurately expressing your opinions with precise words and enclosing within your opinion the facts you derived your opinion from.

Accurate communication must be elevated in our value structure to be above SOUND BYTES, brevity, simplicity.

If two people discuss a subject and discover they have differing opinions because they are each accepting as fact something the other thinks is not a fact, then the discussion must pause right there -- and fact-finding must ensue until both parties agree on the facts.

That means getting rid of the process that has recently become "politically correct" of "agreeing to disagree."

Many of our communication problems that have arisen in the last 3 decades can be traced to this blurring of the line between fact and opinion by agreeing to disagree as if the facts don't matter. This process leaves a festering hole in our factual universe.

In fact, there are younger people around who actually don't know the difference between fact and opinion because of "agreeing to disagree."

Such people, though they may be over 18 years of age, aren't actually qualified to cast a vote for public office because of that lack of knowledge of the difference between fact and opinion. Isn't that a frightening idea.

Thank you for giving me a chance to sound off on this pet peeve about language usage.

I post on Tuesdays on a co-blog on Paranormal Romance
where I often talk about Tarot and Astrology and other fields of psychology that can be used by writers to create fiction. I'm currently working on a series of non-fiction books about writing craft.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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