Human beings are the ultimate tool-using species on this planet, and in this Solar System, it would appear, and yet… all too often our most powerful tool is ignored, minimized, and overlooked. I’m referring to language, the use of words. Without language, our tool-making skills would likely be stuck in the Stone Age, if not before.
Despite its power, it often seems to me that people go out of their way to abuse language. The other night I watched part of the Hundred Year Grammy Celebration of the birth of Frank Sinatra, and listened while a bevy of Grammy Award Winners performed a host of Sinatra’s original arrangements. I came away from what I watched with two impressions. First, none of those talented Grammy artists sang those songs as well as Sinatra had. Second, all of them sounded better singing Sinatra’s arrangements than they did singing what made them successful and popular. Now, that’s just my opinion, but it was so nice to actually hear and understand the words the more “modern” artists were singing.
Why is it that so much modern vocal music effectively degrades the use of words, twisting them and singing them against a melodic cacophony that so often makes it impossible to decipher what they might have been? Or for that matter,even finding the melody line itself [and I can certainly do without high bass volume repetitive percussive abuse]?
But pop music isn’t the only offender. Attorneys, bureaucrats, education administrators, politicians, entertainers, programmers, and even writers, often torture language to the point where it becomes excessively jargon-laden and meaningless.
These days it often seems that the most used aspect of language as a tool is not to communicate ideas, not to educate, not to share emotions or experiences, and not even to entertain, but to persuade people to buy, to buy ideas, goods, propaganda, various religions, and, of course, political candidates. But then, humans are also the ultimate opportunists, and it’s clear that our market-driven culture knows just where the highest value of words lies, and that’s in sales.
So much for the Bard, A Brief History of Time, “The Waste Land,” “Easter 1916,” “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” or even The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or War and Peace.