Intentional Language

We think we know so much because so much of what we know is passed down to us instead of learned by us.

Language has been on my mind.

I’ve been thinking about the way I use words to express emotions even though language is severely inadequate for expressing the tough stuff. At times—maybe often—it is inadequate for expressing even the simple stuff. No matter what command I have over language, does it expand and contract enough to describe, to explain something like…depression?

Also, we (and I do mean we, as in me as well) use language to such a limited degree. We use language improperly. We have the capacity for much, yet limit ourselves to a few hundred thousand base words. How many different words have I used in this blog? If I ran every post through a system to count the number of different words I’ve used, then subtracted the ones that aren’t even real (there’s another blog post on its own), how many words will I have used to talk to you? And are those words the most effective, or simply the only ones I know?

So, we have limits, as people do. Our language is limiting at times, or maybe often.

You know what else? We use language as a weapon. We spit out vile words in complicated arrangements to hurt other people. We make snide remarks and we practice cruelty. We assault with language and we normally don’t even do so in an intelligent way. Or, that’s the best way I can describe it with the language I have available to me.

My Rhetoric: my command of the language? My attempt to persuade you? My attempt to judge you or tear you down? My attempt to build you up or pick you apart? My attempt to change the world with language?

Say something to me. Write a comment at the end of this blog post (you don’t have to actually send it). Write something heartfelt—as real a reaction as you can, to this post, as a comment. Look at the words you’ve typed out when you’re done. Do you know what each word means? Do you really know what each word means? If you looked up every single word, I think there’s a good chance at least one those words has a definition alternate to the one in your head. We think we know so much because so much of what we know is passed down to us instead of learned by us. Why should language be any different? That’s what I’ve been thinking about, you see. What do I really know about language and how I am using it?

Here’s a confession. People ask me what words mean all the time. This is natural as I’ve spent my life studying English and writing, and now I’m in a graduate-level program for English. People expect me to make language my… well, people expect a certain level of understanding of language from me. We’ll leave it at that. But—often, I find I can’t even find the words to craft a definition. Sometimes, I simply don’t know what a word means. Sometimes? No, more life a good deal of the time. I’m stumped, left there mouth agape because I use language instinctually rather than intentionally. Which makes me think: oh dear, what am I really saying when I speak to others?

So, the intentional use of language has been on my mind.

I tell people close to me that I want to help others. I tell them I want to be a voice of hope in causes of mental health, LGBT Christians, etc. I talk a mean game about getting over my crippling fear of public speaking so that I can make a difference in the lives of people. Somehow, someway. Yet, I need language for that.

And I used to think I needed language as I already understand language. I used to think that my command of language was at least exceptional, which means it is adequate for those differences I want to make. Lately, language has been on my mind, though, and I’m beginning to wonder about myself. If language itself is, at times, inadequate, who am I to believe my command of language is exceptional, is enough to do what I say I want to do?

I’ve gone and made myself more important than I am. It seems like when I do that, I get lazy. I lose the intentionality that is primary to living a life worth living. My language, my use of language, my understanding language, and my pursuit of language—it has all gotten lazy. I want that intentional language back. I want to tear down language that is a weapon and build up language that generates positive progress.

Language is too important not to be on my mind all the time—a song in the background, influencing the foreground with nothing more than its powerful whisper.

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