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The Biggest Paradox of All: Language is a Lie

The words we use to communicate our reality are what stop others experiencing it

By Francesca Devon HewardPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
Top Story - March 2021
'Shall I Compare Thee...' by Chess

Only one with hypermnesia could cranially farctate the brontide of linguistic nuances that the English language possesses. A philodox who adores the sound of his own vocal ruminations, a virago with vulpine command of tongue, or a rapscallion sciolist might cavil the uselessness of elaborate verbatim; but seldom the banal factotum. It is with a frisson of ardour that I indite of the gorgonising peregrination of heady literary escapes, a feeling akin to gargalesthesia, tucked up in beldam arms, as I first discovered the joy of words. An ambuscade of aliment for my natural brain, each letter instilling an appentency within me for any orts or scruples of learning; but to collogue like a clerk was never my destiny. Betimes I excogigated a fantasy land, fuzzled on fudge; my bookcase a chicane of intelligence, a fane to fandangle tomes. Forsooth, the bootless act of reading is as ineffectual as a dextrosinistral with no one to dispraise. First a dandiprat, I grew into a beef-witted morosoph, my crumpet tied to the archaic isms of my childhood; but soon I discovered the pleasure of lalochezia; my sensibilities and my words torn asunder, suddenly athwart each other. Erewhile I grew up with the classics, erelong the four-letter malisons enthrall me now.

If you hand-on-heart understood all of that then I tip my hat to you; you’re doing better than me, and I wrote it. If you didn’t, congratulations on being a totally normal human being; here’s the translation:

Only someone with incredible memory could stuff every quirk of the English language into their brain. Someone who loved the sound of their own opinions, a stubborn woman with a powerful voice, or a fake intellectual, might deny how useless excessive words are: but never the average Joe. It’s nice to think back on when I first discovered reading as a means of escape, with my grandmother as a child. Food for my undeveloped thoughts, with each word making me hungry to learn more; but I was never destined to be a scholar. I created a fantasy world, drunk on nonsense; my bookcase made me look clever, but was only a shrine to books. Reading was as useless as forcing a left-handed person to write with their right with no one to critique me. From a silly child I grew up to fake my intelligence by still speaking in proper English, until I discovered the great relief of swearing; my words broke away from my pride. While I grew up reading the classics, it is the four-letter curses that excite me now.

What I mean to say through all of this, is that even in the very words we use to speak, there are hidden meanings, double meanings, and lost meanings; facts and stories obscured by time and the evolution of language.

As the generations pass, words are replaced by shorter, simpler versions of themselves; recognisable, at least at first. For this, judging by the dense and difficult paragraph I began with, we should be grateful. Imagine if we all spoke like that…? How tricky would it be to order a coffee, let alone write a story..?

In every word there is a full and powerful history. From the first of its definitions, through a tumultuous evolution to the present day. The words we now carefully select to express ourselves are largely different to what they once were, despite the language nominally being the same. But how much has the meaning changed over time? What alternative associations are we now making, and which have been obscured by time?

Everyone imagines the events of a book unfolding differently in their mind as they read. Whether it’s an obscure tale or a classic like Harry Potter, this will always be true.

Even your experience of this article won’t align with my intentions.

Factors such as age, background, and personal interests can all influence our individual perception of something that should be the same across the board.

Truthfully, we all have a slightly different relationship to each word when we read or listen, even though they are supposed to be convey universal meaning and therefore accessible to all. In reality we are kept apart from actual, real meaning by the functions of language.

The simple act of substituting a real-world thing with a written or spoken word is a step away from reality. If you see a tree, it remains a unique entity in the universe; if you call it a ‘tree,’ it is now lumped in with all other trees; if you tell someone you saw a tree, they will imagine a generic tree, or whatever ‘tree’ means to them. The original artefact is lost through the process of language and communication. So, as soon as something is assimilated into language, it loses its real self.

And, as all of our experience is now processed by our minds through language, we are never truly in touch with reality.

“The traditional statement about language is that it is in itself living, and that writing is the dead part of language.”

- Jacques Derrida

Without delving too deep into Poststructuralism and the complicated words of Jacques Derrida (which performatively serve to shut out the reader the way that words shut humans out of experience), words can only ever be a stand-in for actual experience and actual emotion, which is possibly why so many words can be used in place of just one feeling. Yet, none of them really get to the heart of the matter. Perhaps this is why language is so subject to regular change as generations pass. Words evolve in an attempt to move closer to the truth, but every time they fail.

The fact that I can write two very different paragraphs to tell the same story simply exemplifies the fragility and ineffectiveness of language. Even with two versions, I cannot fully communicate my meaning to my reader, only a semblance of it. The final interpretation is always in the hands of the unique reader, and this is the root of the reason:

Language is not real.

It is a false, misleading depiction of reality, viewed only through the unique lens of every reader.

“I would like to write you so simply, so simply, so simply. Without having anything ever catch the eye, excepting yours alone ... so that above all the language remains self-evidently secret, as if it were being invented at every step, and as if it were burning immediately”

- Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond

Trick question... you're not trying to think of a word, but a word got in the way.

For those that are interested, find the obscure original definitions of the archaic words in the first paragraph below:

Hypermnesia – someone with exceptional memory

Farctate – stuff

Brontide – thunderous

Phildox – someone who enjoys their own opinions

Virago – a domineering woman

Vulpine – fox-like

Rapscallion – mischievous person

Sciolist – someone who pretends to be knowledgeable

Cavil – make unnecessary objections

Factotum – an odd-job man

Frisson – a sudden burst of excitement or fear

Indite – write

Gorgonising – to have a paralysing effect

Peregrination – a long, winding journey

Gargalesthesia – the sensation caused by tickling

Beldam – a grandmother

Ambuscade – ambush

Aliment – sustenance/food

Appentency – appetite

Orts – scrap or remainder

Scruple – a small measure

Clerk – scholar

Excogigated – devised

Fuzzled – drunk

Fudge – nonsense

Chicane – a trick

Fane – shrine

Fandangle – a useless thing

Bootless – useless

Dextrosinistral – a left-handed person trained to write with their right

Dandiprat – naïve youth

Beef-witted – stupid

Morosoph – someone who fakes intelligence

Crumpet – head

Lalochezia – relief that occurs after swearing

Athwart – apart

Malisons – curses

All definitions taken from Google.

If you enjoyed this article, hit the like button! You might also enjoy my piece on how language is key to solving the Not All Men debate. Check it out below!


About the Creator

Francesca Devon Heward

Artist, Writer, Bird-Watcher.


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    Francesca Devon HewardWritten by Francesca Devon Heward

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