Sunday, October 26, 2014

Such Language... !

I’ve noticed that what were once considered obscenities are ordinary conversation on line today. I wonder if I’m missing the boat, not sprinkling a little billingsgate through this blog.

What I mean, for example, is the opportunity to use a pithier word where I use “stuff.” You hardly ever see “stuff happens” quoted on the Internet. There’s also the adjective/adverb and sometime, when not in the gerund, interjection that's transcended its original meaning and is now part of intercourse on line generally.

The unimaginativeness of it is depressing, especially when you think of what’s been lost over the ages. The English had some terrific expressions.

“Zounds!” Now there was an interjection you could get some attention with. Looking for colorful adjectives? Try “scurvy” -- anachronous in a day when you can buy oranges at any corner supermarket, but you're immediately established as a salty character with your audience. 

“Odious” is a two-fer: the denotation is “hateful,” but the connotation adds “for a disagreeable or offensive quality,” so you have a cultivated way of saying your opponent’s program is bad and smells that way. Follow up with “fetid” or "miasmic" and the listener can’t help but envision your adversary’s plan emerging, slime-covered, from some swamp-like recess of his/her mind.  

But for pure poetry in the service of argument -- has anyone ever equalled Oliver Cromwell’s 1650 invitation to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland to give their decision a re-think?  “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ think it possible you may be mistaken…” Lay that alongside “Your argument sucks” in the “comment” section of any Internet post. No contest.

If you’re going to comment online, maybe go to a thesaurus before you submit; get something imaginative. Want to get snarky about someone’s physical appearance but still sound cultured?  Read Cyrano de Bergerac for a lesson in creative ways to insult someone with too much nose. 

It’s a great language; there are many ways to express a thought. My thesaurus lists something like 180 different ways to say you think something is bad, with a whole paragraph of slang terms, some of which you might not have thought of before. (And on the off chance that you’re really discussing copulation, there are almost 50 other ways to say that.)

The thing to remember, if it’s emphasis you’re after: when obscenities become commonplace, you need to find new words to put some jazz into your writing.