Saturday, January 15, 2011

Loving Language. Watching the Words.

There is no need to go outside.
Be melting snow,
Wash yourself of yourself.
A white flower grows in the quietness,
Let your tongue become that flower”

A topic I have been passionate about for many years.

Currently such a debate about language, about the words we choose, and how we use them, that has not been heard for ages. Sorrowful it comes in such circumstances, but wonderful that is it happening.

Poets, authors, playwrights, from Homer, who wrote of “winged words”, and wisely reminded us that “Men flourish only for a moment”, to contemporary writers, must surely be listening with eagerness.

For words are what we have to communicate with. Language in all its shades and colours is a beautiful tool. We live in a world of words; they are mainly how we communicate – with other people, with ourselves. Hugs, smiles, a handshake, a clasp of hands, a touch, all these are wonderful but frequently they are accompanied by some words, of encouragement, of hope, of understanding, of love. So we connect.

As a  child an often heard cliché was “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you”.  So very very inaccurate. Bones and cuts can heal. The wounds from words of rejection, harsh judgement, ridicule can cut deeper, linger for a lifetime. As those who are bullied well know. There must be few of us who have not suffered from hurtful words.

Now there is hope we may ‘think before we speak’, choosing words that will embrace not exclude. Becoming fully aware of the power and beauty of language

Words have been important to me since I was very young. An only child, books were my companions, playmates, bothers and sisters. I clearly remember my first library book, about a black cat. A dictionary is often one of my favourite books. One word leads to another, a constant river of exploration and discovery.

Daily I am saddened seeing slang, poor grammar, poorly constructed sentences in national newspapers. Perhaps if we all read more, in whatever format, enriching our vocabulary, learning the shades and values of words, we will communicate more gently.
Poetry with its exact selection of words conveys so much in few lines.

So often we mis-use language. We hear people saying “I hated that book.”  “I hate Brussels sprouts.”  Hate is much too strong a word to use about an inanimate, innocuous, but healthy, vegetable. An over-used word that thereby as lost any real meaning.  Hate is a word I try not to use. Disgust, despair, are words I use in relation to the world’s most horrific events. They are my personal, reflected reaction.

For many years my dual vocations of freelance writer and yoga teacher have opened me to the importance of the choice of words. Writing about the arts I sought words to evoke to someone who had not been in the theatre or concert hall, the sounds of an orchestra or violin; the gestures of a dancer; the colours or texture of a painting, a piece of fibre art; an actor’s voice.

I delight in teaching yoga as much as I delight in using words. In ancient yogic teaching language was revered. Speech in the Sanskrit language has great power; closely bound to the life breath or prana.

In class I use imagery, metaphor and simile a lot. Words and images can sometimes replace fully demonstrating a posture; their thoughtful selection slows us down. From my writing I understand and honour the power of words.  As I teach I avoid using words such as ‘grab, ‘pull’, ‘push’ (harsh, abrupt, words), preferring ‘extend’, ‘reach’, ‘encourage’.  The more I teach I find myself using images to evoke feelings of the movement in the body. As we curl up from a forward fold we are falcons flying towards the sun; in Cobra our shoulder blades slide down our backs like melting snowflakes (or ice cream depending on the season).

Great leaders, who are usually skilful orators, have long known how important it is to select words. Winston Churchill and his advisors spent hours going over his famous wartime speeches, honing phrases, finding the right emphasis, the meaningful pauses. Re-reading the words that gave my country hope and courage, determination and guts I still shiver. That’s loving language.

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