Pick Your Words Wisely

3 Apr

Pick your words wisely.

MeHave you ever been told you should improve your grammar?

Should you?

Have you ever been told you should increase your vocabulary?

Should you?

Have you ever been told you will get more respect, earn more money, or move “up” in the world if you do these things?

Will you?

Have you ever been told the grammar you worked so hard to learn is sexist, racist, or has some other socially unacceptable fault that you should not do or use?

Should you?

Have you ever been told the new words you so painfully learned were pretentious and you should avoid them in favor of simpler words?

Nothing can be more confusing than language, called linguistics by those who confuse themselves (and everyone else) as they try to untangle the Gordian Knot of language and meaning. Yet there are some simple, easy to follow rules, that allow YOU to decide how YOU should use the language you were born to. 

And help you decide if you should even look at these articles on how to better yourself through language, grammar, etc. 

These articles have mostly been written by people who use language a certain way. The people they hang around use language the same way. And they believe everyone else should emulate them and use language the same way they do.

Have no fear:

I am the guy who seasons sweet potatoes with pico de gallo, puts a spoonful of curry powder in my orange juice, and flavors his water with a jigger of Balsamic vinegar. While I firmly believe there are other people in the world who do those things I can guarantee they are not for everyone. I will never ask anyone to emulate me.

Here is a simple guide to help you through the often confusing morass of verbal shoulds and shouldn’ts of everyday, and even formal, language. One designed for who you are.

Hello. I am the Map Thinker ™ I have not contributed to this blog in while for two reasons. One is I have a lot of projects going on. The other is I am planing on writing books aimed at a wider audience and publishing them at smashwords.com.

I’m writing this blog because one of my favorite granddaughters, who is both smarter and better educated than I am got me to thinking about the subject.

Lets get started. I think using Mapological ™ reasoning and I recommend it to everyone else.

Lets build a Map. Every good map has three things. Potential starting points, potential objectives, and various routes between them.

The starting point for this map is easy. We start at the beginning. We start with the very first thing language accomplishes. Many people who are not into linguistics are surprised at this but it is true. And important. Other people realize it but never really thought about it.

The first thing language does is classify YOU.

It does not matter what the subject is you are talking about. It does not matter what your opinion is ON the subject. What matters is how the person listening feels about the group of people you belong to and/or with. And how the listener feels about that group of people. Some people, I am one, find people who are different interesting and immediately want to know more about them. (On the other hand I am quickly bored by people who spout the same opinion I’ve heard 400 times before.) Other people are only comfortable with people from their own group, their own circle, their own kind. And some people who would be horrified at the very concept of racism or sexism will have extremely negative reactions to entire groups of people. They often justify these prejudices based on “choice”. Proclaiming “You can’t choose your sexual orientation or your race but people who _______ (Fill in the blank) chose to be what they are.”

Common groups of disrespected people include, but are not limited too, poor people, bikers, cowboys, red necks, field hands, bankers, lawyers, politicians, physicians, southerners, yankees, Californians, law enforcement personnel, and the beat goes on.

From this it should be easy to see it doesn’t matter who you are, how you speak, or how you write – You WILL be criticized. The only choice you have is who gets to criticize you.

You will be judged.

Once we realize this is the start of our discussion, and this HAS to be the start of our discussion, we can start to draw our map.

When you have a starting point, and now we do, we can choose where on the map we want to go and how we want to get there. This requires making decisions. Two in this case.

What group do you identify with?

What group might you aspire to? If any?

Most articles aimed at telling you to improve, or change, your vocabulary, your grammatical style, or your speaking habits, are probably not aimed at you unless you are pushing your way up the corporate ladder. If you are then let me suggest you not only spend time mastering the art of speaking like the corporate executives in your company – You run out right NOW and take a good course in etiquette. The closer you get to the over culture the more important it is to know not to pick your nose with the salad fork.

Being judged like this may seem like a drawback, but it has some benefits.

Because many people do not choose to associate with those who are really different linguistically than themselves, you can thin out some of your unwanted unfriends and associates.

The example I will use are the two polar opposites. The cuss-a-holic and the devout-a-holic.

Suppose you know someone who is constantly exposing the most vulgar aspects of their thoughts in front of you. You do not have to be religious. Just start explaining to them how God feels about their behavior. Usually they will quit coming around you. It also works the other way. If someone is constantly in your face with religion salt and pepper your language with as many vulgarities as you may know. Most will quit coming around you.

If you belong to a group you are accepted by and that you like – Believe it or not most people are – Then you don’t need to do a damn thing to change the way you talk. In fact if you do you might alienate the very group you identify with the most.

If Y’all say Y’all why should you change just because you are in a place that says us’ens and we’ens, or youse guys?

Usually, for most people, the best thing to do with their language is nothing. Unless you aspire to join, and become accepted by, another group as part of that group. The only people who have to constantly keep up on it are academics and corporate climbers.

However you might want to belong to more than one group.

I once knew a banker who was a cowboy at home. He owned a horse ranch. And on weekends he was a biker whose scoot was a panhead. A layman might say he literally spoke three different languages. A linguist would say he used three different registers, one for each group. All it means is that when he rode his Harley he did not sound like a banker or a cowboy. When he was in the bank he sounded like a banker and when he was on the ranch he sounded like a cowboy.

In those days I would never have met the big shot banker, or the owner of the ranch, but I knew the biker dude. He was cool.

Sometimes two groups use the same words but mean entirely different things. When a biker asks me how my Ole Lady is I react one way. In biker culture “Ole Lady” is a sign of respect. When a citizen asks me how my old lady is I tell them “I don’t have an old lady. I have a wife.”

Few people want to be so diverse. And it comes with a risk. While some people admired his versatility others thought of him as a fake and a fraud. They applied the, “You can only belong to one group and be real,” rule.

As I say I do not recommend my way of dealing with people who criticize my language. I simply tell them, “If you don’t like the way I talk don’t listen to me. Nobody else does, why should you?”

So now you have a map. You can be happy with where you live or you can pick out a destination and head that way. If you do I hope you are happy wherever you end up.

© 2016 by Michael Berryman, All Rights Reserved.

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