Bags of Bran


The New Enemies of Language
July 18, 2010, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Biography

When I lived in Iron Mountain, MI, I lived among an unrefined, rough-handed, yet winsome people whose grammar, while not great, was charming. At least I could understand them despite their distinctive speech patterns. For example, we would go to the bank (lady and I) and when we made like a tree to leave, the teller would smile broadly and say “Thank yous” because she was thankful with respect to both of us. In her reckoning (and the reckoning of most of the UP), if she only said “thank you,” it would erode the very foundations of our marriage to wonder which of us she had been thankful for. Pluralizing the “you” also made it so she didn’t have to kill time by saying “Thank you, ma’am; and thank you as well, sir, I had not forgotten you just there when I thanked your wife,”  saving the company big bucks over the long haul.

This was, as I said, charming. More charming was the way the true wood-Yoopers (the ones who could wield a chainsaw like a rapier) pronounced words. “You want another piece of pickled pike there?” sounded like “You wannanudder piece a pickled pike dare, hey?” All “th” was either “t” (things–>tings) or “d” (them there–>dem dare) or a combination thereof (this here thing–>dis here ting). Also, most sentences ended either with extraneous prepositions (So, you tink it’s gonna rain, den) or the universal “I’m not talking to myself” tag: “hey” (Giddoff dat ladder dare, you’re gonna hurt yourself dare, hey). “Hey” was a personal pronoun of direct address which almost functioned as a proper noun in context. When deployed, the receiver of the “hey” would treat it as though the speaker had just uttered his Christian name. A common response was “OK den.”

Far less charming is the speech pattern of the young-ish urbanites that congregate and prevail in a neighborhood kind of on the left end of Minneapolis. We call the place “Uptown” and the people “Hipsters.” Hipsters are extremely self-conscious, leaving little consciousness for the other person in the room, unless that person happens to be more hip than he is. Those who rise through the ranks of hipness usually end up with a website full of grungy YouTube videos, despicable and contempt-worthy scrawls known as “local art,” cacophonous din laced with gibbering known as “local music,” and pictures of self and other selves bearded and drinking, checking one another out for hipness. Their art, fashion, and language all vie for the bottom rung of the disposable fashion ladder.

I happened upon one of these websites, a cycling-related one, while looking for something else one day. Short sentence fragments. Unverbed ones. Meaninglessness. Random videos. Rants about Sarah Palin.

Etc. And plenty of AutoCorrect Malapropisms sprinkled through his jaunty, verb-free prose.

What was really striking, however, was the strange recurrence of the verb “curate,” as though every time the author wished to communicate the concept of “hold” or “keep,” he would use “curate.”

“We needed a light, but none of us was curating a lighter, except Poz, and he was busy stenciling a naked girl on the side of a box car. Poz has a sweet beard and just joined a local band called the Tennis Elbows. They’ve been practicing for a week and they’re going to play a house party on Friday. Stellar. And he was using a can of paint that he curated in his pocket from his dad’s garage. Stellar. It was epic.”

No longer is it stuffy guys in museums that can be called “curators.” ANYBODY who has, keeps, carries, totes, lugs, drags, stashes on his person, cups in the palm of his hand, or accidentally swallows ANYTHING is now a “curator.” Soon, the trivia on the side of the cereal box will say “Did you know that you’re curating literally hundreds of microscopic organisms in that large intestine that you’re curating?”

I kinda liked the old sense of the word. I like the stuffy guys who forget more about paintings and painters than they know about their own families. Someone has to protect paintings from savages who would try to cut them up and make patches for their messenger bags out of them, and that’s why museums have curators. Who will save language from the hipsters? Well, not too many people take them seriously, but their cultural vandalism need not go unchecked. I suppose it’s up to me.

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1 Comment so far
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Epic post, dude. Epic.

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Comment by David




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