A daily bulletin of news & opinion

9 April 2012

This Easter weekend I found myself in a pub with a group of friends at home in rural England. It was a cosy little place, tucked away at the end of a winding street of terraced cottages, with pictures hung crookedly all over the walls, shelves full of books and even a billiards table. In traditional British fashion, the pub had a selection of board games you could play. So we decided to have a round of Scrabble. For those who are not familiar with this monolith of the game world, it involves picking letters from a bag at random, which you then use to write words and score points on a grid that covers the board.

Now, I’m not exactly an Olympic board game player, but Scrabble is definitely one of my favourites. Since I was a child, I’ve always loved the opportunity to experiment with words and language. On this particular occasion, as it was Saturday night, we settled on one of the many bastardisations of the game which would likely have had Scrabble purists threatening us with large, hard-backed dictionaries.”Wild Scrabble,” as we named it, is not for the faint-hearted or one to be enjoyed with the grandparents. Only rude or offensive words are allowed and as the night went on and a few more drinks were enjoyed, much of the lexicon being placed on the board didn’t even technically exist, it just sounded like it should.

Creating vocabulary is one of the many joys of the malleable English language. And when you work as a journalist you become acutely aware of the importance and impact of the words used to describe and explain. The addition or omission of a single term can totally change how something is interpreted. It highlights how words give meaning to our lives and activities, and help us understand the world around us. The philosopher and theorist Michel Foucault believed it so central to our lives, he argued that until something is represented in language, or discourse, it doesn’t even exist.

But I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there are some discourses we need to reign back in. Case in point: social networking. We tweet, we post, we blog, we undertake all manner of activities when all we are really doing is writing. Each site constructs its own language and identity to help it stand out. Once people adopt these discourses, the sites are elevated to an importance which far exceeds the bounds of what’s reasonable. Once you’re tweeting, for example, you can only do that in one place. But if you’re just writing, you can do that anywhere. You’re the boss again. So now’s the time to fight back. Linguists of the world, unite! Just as quickly as we have adopted this lexicon, it can, and should, be shunned!

I’m not totally opposed to such technology, but we need to be the ones calling the shots, and it starts with the language we use. Even the term “social” networking is questionable. Humans are innately social beings but these sites don’t exactly encourage actual human contact.

I’m pretty sure that real social activity is having a drink with your friends in a pub while scoring 42 points for “sexywand” (all one word, double word score).


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