Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Wordswords-- meaning and demeaning

THE Oxford Dictionary of English lists an additional 350 new words to demean a person, 10 times more than new well-meaning words to shore up a person’s sense of self-worth. That’s a hardly reassuring state of the tongue.

That means for every word that can ennoble or uplift the other, there are 10 newly honed swords for tearing up, trampling upon and grinding another’s esteem into shreds. Maybe, just maybe, it’s much easier to define a human being in degrading or abrasive terms—anything to wear down human worth. Wordsmiths the world over must be probably predisposed to brewing new venom and stockpiling of slurs to bring pain, maim, deface, efface.

We hardly exult. We’d rather insult.

How did Lewis Carroll phrase it? “Words use us just as we use words.”

It’s probably easier to spew out filth and excrement—we must be full of such inside and crave to wallow in it outside. Or do we? Sadly, such surfeit of organic fertilizer has no useful application in growing healthy cash crops or reversing soil aridity.

Research findings: it takes 100 words of praise and assurance to neutralize an insult inflicted on a child’s psyche. It takes a lot more of that balm to bring inner healing, lick clean the wounds and leach out the venom of one, just one insult.

An earful ought to take a lot of time and patience— mouthfuls of assurance, loving and soothing, mending and doting won’t fix any quick therapy to a soul leeched dry and charred by oral fireworks.

Stumbled into a booklet of pig Latin oraciones, I did sometime last month on a sidewalk book peddler. Rifling fast through its pages—it was more of a tract than a tome that fits the palm—I stumbled some more on a certain oracion which is Spanish for either “orison, prayer” or simply, “sentence.”

It was a death sentence of sorts. To be meted out? To be pronounced on whomever one deems as guilty of a heinous deed? I was dumbstruck but I couldn’t avert my gaze— the array of words in a tongue I hardly understand and make sense of supposedly had the efficacy for slow disembowelment. Chunk by wee chunk of entrails and innards of anyone the words are meant to would be coughed out like phlegm—that’s slow, painful death sentence.

That oracion packs the lethal efficacy of odium and opprobrium, all the gamut of verbal abuse reaching critical mass like fissionable material, focusing sharply into a laser-like cutting edge—no external wounds, no nicks or bruises on the skin is made manifest when whipped out in a whisper. The words hack through a victim’s inner parts, wreaks butchery within.

Call ‘em power-packed words? Say, “invective” comes from “inveigh” which is rooted in the Latin inveh, “to attack with words.” And there’s a prayer, an oracion like that, hidden from the uninitiated that can be taken with a grain of assault…

Ah, prayers, prayers, prayers…

Tons and tons of prayers are, as old rustics swear by it, fed to such exhumed corpus of words-- to rouse ‘em to life, to make ‘em throb with power that can be unleashed like a pack of hungry vermin for a feeding frenzy on the unsuspecting.

Sometime last month, an Oracle column by Jojo Acuin cited a believe-it-or-not account of an old man knowledgeable in the ways of words. That old man mumbled out a similar death sentence to a foul-mouthed meddler. It soon came to pass the meddler coughed out his entrails bit by bit, slowly withered into a skinny bag of bones—no doctor or herbolario could help him.

That poor foul-mouthed soul-- spewed abrasive words and he probably had a grinding stone inside him. It’s likely that old man he demeaned merely set that grinding stone into a working frenzy— the grinding couldn’t be stopped.

Maybe we can wield words with grace. Maybe they’re swords unsheathed for cutting up vegetables, twigs and some flesh.

How did that mathematician who wrote that whimsical Alice in Wonderland put some of his insights out? It was in a chit-chat between Humpty-Dumpty and Alice. Here goes:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. "It means just what I choose it to mean - neither more or less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

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