Thursday, March 26, 2015

From Here On Out

I remember one evening in South Philadelphia when my father and I were nearly clipped by a speeding car in the parking lot of a stadium after a football game. Relieved that we'd come away uninjured, my father remarked: "Imagine our lives ebbing out here, in this parking lot . . ." His tone was one of bemusement; I imagine now a twinkle in his eye. The absurdity of life wrapped up in an instant: akin to a statement Winston Churchill made via radio in 1939:  "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key." Churchill was speaking of Russia, but he might just as well have been speaking about life.

My father was very attuned to language and communications. He spent much of his working life in advertising and marketing, so this makes perfect sense. He would hear a word or phrase and repeat it aloud, followed by a little commentary: "that's a good word" or "that's a good phrase," for example.

I remember having elliptical conversations with him about the news and media presentation, advertisements and public relations' "spin." When it came to phrases like "at the end of the day" and "going forward" we both agreed that they were stale and unimaginative. What they are is reflexive -- virtually empty fillers. 

Clichés, Idioms, and euphemisms abound, whether the speaker or writer is aware of them or not.  Phrases like "at the end of the day" support William S. Burroughs' notion of the "word virus" in how quickly they spread and become pandemic, ubiquitous "across" geographic space thanks to global communications. 

"In any case," here is a sampling from some of my recent field notes about language usage and contemporary social activity.

Yesterday, I attended a poetry slam and found it interesting that two speakers read poems using cellphones as platforms for their texts. 

I've seen several patrons using mobile phones to take pictures of books or catalog records, and have found this so clever that I now do the same thing -- handy when I want to make sure to remember my parking space at an airport, for instance.

Marshall McLuhan would have us keep aware of how we communicate, the modes, the methods, the devices, the medium (or plural media) and so on. 

Instead of "going forward," how about the older expression, "from here on out?" 

I like creative mimicry in auditory exchanges or outright conversation: instead of saying "a climate of fear," I heard someone say, "It was a calamity of fear. . ."  Must have been what this person had misheard broadcast(ed) somewhere, and tried to mimic, thereby "coming up with" a creative variation on a stale phrase, letting us see the old phrase in a new way. Can you dig?

OH (an acronym for overheard used via Twitter, etc.): "They really did a number on him." 

"Whatever happened to the charwoman and the ragman?"

My father would sometimes respond to some joker on TV, or in recalling an on the job encounter with one: "What a piece of work that guy is" -- hearkening back to Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Act II, Scene 2):

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

There are words that are stale and words that are fresh, words refashioned, words reincarnated, phrases reanimated, and others that are unceremoniously put into suspended animation or exiled, willy-nilly, to some terrible Siberia of forgotten words.

Donald Delbert France (1934-2013), RIP. 

Today's Rune: Flow.   


Charles Gramlich said...

I too love the flow and creativity of language. Such playfulness to be had.

jodi said...

Erik-I love slang, idioms and 'up north' speech patterns. Was Donald your Dad? I don't recall his passing. So sorry for you. I miss my Dad.