Letter #23: The Importance of Language Pt. 2
A Brief-ish Note, Then Some Ice Cream, Ellipses, and More
As always, I hope everyone is staying safe, well, and hydrated. And, as the lovely fictionalfates always begins their videos: “We must all stay hydrated!”
I’ve had this post itself written for a bit, but I’ve been fiddling with the intro here for a bit. Maybe I’ll share more later, but here we go.
This two-part series (so far) I’ve started came about because I care about the intersection of language and the world. Words are powerful. They can do great and terrible things.
“After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things — terrible, yes, but great.”
-Ollivander (J. K. Rowling), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
This being said, if you ever take anything away from this newsletter besides random words, tidbits, and maybe some chuckles, please, take this:
Words have power. The words you say and write have so much meaning, whether others agree with those meanings or not. The words other people say and write also have so much meaning, whether you agree with those meanings or not. And whether either sides end up agreeing or not, maybe just try to give words a listen. Words are how we communicate, but you can’t communicate with a brick wall. Communication is a two-way street; both sides involved in the conversation need to speak, but each also needs to listen.
This is the whole purpose of words: communication, understanding. If you know all these words but you never listen to the words others say, you’ll likely never truly understand. (And sometimes understanding won’t be possible, but I wouldn’t like to give up without trying my darnedest to understand.)
Words can’t be fully separated from the world, or from people. I am someone who cares very much about words and people. Particularly about how words affect people.
That’s why language is so amazing to me. It can open doors to others, build (and rebuild!) bridges to others, close chapters that need to be shut, allow love to bloom, and foster real growth or change. But it can also bring about discord in the garden, eviscerate an already broken heart, tear someone down in the name of so many things, burn bridges, regress important growth or change, and even worse.
I’m sure there’s more I can say. (I can always say more.) But I wasn’t even sure if I would write a longer intro here, nor had I planned on it being more than a paragraph or two.
But words allowed me to convey all of this to you. And I think that’s a pretty good example of how words and language intersect with the world and culture.
So, after a not-so-brief-intro, here is the continuation of the word-centric last letter.
Brief Word Histories
The evolution of ice cream, ice coffee, etc.
I suppose this one is not particularly earth-shattering, but I thought it was interesting the way people will just drop part of a word to say it quicker. This applies to more than just the words “iced cream” or “shaved ice” because those are considered actually wrong linguistically nowadays, but this was a quick example.
“Hawaiian” vs. “Local”
Following the previous point, I learned in a blog post from a writer who grew up in Hawaii that you will immediately identify yourself as a visitor or tourist by saying “shaved ice” instead of “shave ice.”
I also learned that it is also considered in poor taste to assume someone who lives in Hawaii is called a “Hawaiian,” as that identifier signifies a certain meaning that is different from the meaning behind “local.”
The author of the post provides this explanation:
“There’s a lot of history and nuance behind this, but to put it simply, Hawaiian is an ethnic group with a culture, language, and history. For someone who is from Hawaii but not Hawaiian to claim that they are Hawaiian would imply that they fully understand the complexities behind the Hawaiian ethnicity.
Instead, to indicate that someone is from Hawaii, we usually say that someone is local or a local. This also has its nuances – how long does someone have to live in Hawaii before they become a local? – but it’s much less problematic than calling someone from Hawaii ‘Hawaiian’ if they are not ethnically Hawaiian.”
-Sarah, Borders & Bucket Lists
Evolution of Some Exclamatory Statements
In the following quote, we see the transformation of phrases with similar meanings. As someone who engages in regular meme-y Internet speak but also adores now-goofy-seeming older phrases like “alas,” this spoke to me. Phrases like this now come across as weird and dramatic, even while conveying almost the same energy.
Photo credit: posted to Pinterest by Laurie Mcbee, original poster Rosa Astra/morganastra
Getting into the Present
The Pandemic, Regional Phrases, and Accents
This article shows the importance of language and word usage in media and how that spills into everyday life, particularly in the case of the pandemic… with a cute children’s TV show!
Research shows that U.S. preschool-age children started developing British accents after watching so much of this show during the pandemic lockdown.
I find that absolutely fascinating. Throw somebody in a different place with different accents and they’ll start adapting. Humans are cool!
What Ellipses Mean to Different Generations
The following post conveys the power of punctuation, phrasing, and the very medium of communication to different generations. I thought these posts were such spot-on ways to describe the differences in just one or two generations.
In general, ellipses have multiple uses. I’m sure you’ve seen me use them here plenty of times when quoting sources, as you use ellipses to indicate omitted text. You’ll also see them often in written dialogue (“Um… could you maybe, uh… pass the salt?”) and even texts, emails, or syllabi.
Photo credit: from Pinterest without a source listed; original poster appears to be alyesque
In the first post, we see that younger age groups (like me) view using “…” as being ominous when a sentence simply trails off that way. It can also be used for dramatic effect in the middle of a sentence, but it tends to feel a bit off-putting at the end of a sentence for reasons I don’t yet fully understand.
However, to older generations, it seems to be more of a trailing off and not meant to be perceived as ominous. I’m still very curious as to how these separate conventions developed for the same set of punctuation.
It’s just another example of how language, not even just words, but the little dots and turns and blotches we use around words, changes over time.
If you want several inspiring quotes about languages and language learning, here you are! This is also where I found the quote for the Quote of the Week this time around.
If you’re new here, scroll down to the very bottom of this page or email (if you’ve subscribed for free emails!) to see the Quote of the Week; I started adding one at the bottom of each letter a while ago!
As per some lovely readers’ suggestions in the comments on the last letter, here is some quick, mildly related reading on the evolution of the word “awesome” and the intersection of words in different languages
Along with a more in-depth study into similarities across languages
The following aren’t exactly related reading, but are bookish articles I read recently that interested me, so I thought I’d link them here if anyone else might be curious:
This author’s journey in writing two books, including his most recent on bridesmaids and weddings
As someone who has fangirled over all kinds of fandoms for years (“fangirl” is actually a pretty loaded term that I may need to write about after getting my hands on this book) and read Alice Oseman’s I Was Born For This earlier this year, I definitely found this article about fangirls quite fascinating
A look into how Goodreads actually makes money
Do you have any other tidbits of weird etymology or examples of the way words change us? Feel free to share in the comments!
Have a wonderful rest of your week!
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Works Cited (MLA 9th Edition):
Borders & Bucket Lists, Sarah. “30 Mistakes to Avoid before Your First Time in Hawaii.” Borders & Bucket Lists, WordPress, 6 Mar. 2020, https://bordersandbucketlists.com/first-time-in-hawaii/.
J.K., Rowling. “Ollivander Quotes.” Goodreads, Goodreads, Inc., https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/ollivander.
Quote of the Week:
“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”