Caring For Words

Posted: January 8, 2015

January Term has begun

I just started my January term this week at Western. January term is a three-week intensive of a single class. I have something to do or turn in every day, so I'm trying to get ahead of the class before things get too busy and I fall behind.

I'm taking a class called "Writing for the Pastoral Life." I picked this class mainly because there weren't any others I wanted and I knew a few other students who were taking the class. So far the class is... okay. I'm not too excited about it; the readings so far have been a hit and miss. One of our texts is called Caring For Words in a Culture of Lies. It highlights the need for precision and clarity in our use of words and critiques our culture's lazy use of language and misuse of words. For example, the author laments the loss of subtle nuances inherent in many words we now consider synonymns; nuances between words such as "awesome," "incredible," "spectacular," etc. She also points out the imprecision in our conversation, where sentences rarely say what they mean, but rather, rely on modifiers that encourage ambiguity: "like," "whatever," "guess," and so on. While I acknowledge these as legitimate concerns, I do not agree with the alarmist tone that the author sets forth.


In the first chapter she uses terminology from farming and environmentalism to describe our current usage of language as "unsustainable." Is it really? I believe that language evolves and new ways of capturing the world with words will emerge. That doesn't mean that we should be careless with our words, but it also challenges us to not be snobby language purists. Thoughts and ideas will always need expression and people will find ways to communicate them.

A moral issue?

At the heart of this book is the following thesis:
Caring for language is a moral issue.
At the end of this three-week course, I'm expected to write an essay on that claim. At the moment, I am not convinced it is a moral issue. If it is, then the author is using a broad definition of "moral" and is seemingly undermining herself by redefining the terms. I'll check in again in three weeks; perhaps my position will change.

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