Crumpled-up Paper Vs. the Idiolect

Over the weekend I was struggling with a piece of writing. It wasn’t that I didn’t like what I was writing about (in fact, I was in love with it), it wasn’t that I don’t like writing (when I was a child I told everyone who would listen I wanted to be a writer… which strangely flipped to Prime Minister at around 10… I came to my senses soon thereafter), it wasn’t that I don’t have a solid command of the English language (I write well, enjoy speaking even to scary large groups, read voraciously), it was more about splitting the same hair over and over, unsure that the nuances I was casting were able to express exactly what I meant.

This is frustrating for someone who is a word nerd. How many times can I turn the same rock over, hoping to see something a little closer to my imagination underneath it each time?

When I was a teenager I thought music was one way of expressing the inexpressible that I could try. I was unable to read music, but seriously interested in certain clichéd pieces that at least set a mood of sorts, and so my extremely generous boyfriend at the time annotated the couple of scores I picked up, writing in the value of each note. You can imagine how messy these poor scores looked when he was done “fixing” them for me. Even with this incredible assistance, my fingers somehow couldn’t say anything meaningful.

Later on I moved to Montréal and thought I might find “it” in French. It’s definitely there, some French words express things that are inexpressible in English. But a command of French like the one I have in English would have taken much longer to cultivate than the time I spent there. Only knowing a few words that are interesting because translating them is tricky does not an articulate speaker make. I haven’t given up on French, but I have given up on my accent, so perhaps I’ll keep combing through French for its clues in private.

So here I am, fiddling with words, in the only language I will have this level of control over because it was programmed into my head since I was a baby. Still, I feel that there has to be some way to further refine what I say and write. And then? I thought. If I achieve it, will it be so subtle and meaningful only to me that I will be the only one who appreciates the great significance of choosing the word “expose” over “reveal”?

There is something I read about whilst researching my thesis, called an “idiolect”, a use of language so affected that the person who speaks it is the only one who understands it. Wow, I thought, that would be pretty lonely. It’s just about the saddest thing I can think of. This came to mind and I immediately forgave my minor misfires in English, my bad French, and even my wretched attempts at the Moonlight Sonata. I’d rather muddle through and at least make it halfway. I’d rather write love notes with my left hand, ball them up and toss them over your fence, in the hopes you’ll uncrumple them, and decipher them anyway. At the very least, the pile of crumpled-up paper on your side will hint that I have something to say, and it’s probably urgent.

3 replies on “Crumpled-up Paper Vs. the Idiolect”

MK, you always help me make sense of somethign I’m fretting about.

Idiolects are sad when there’s no framework to mediate between yours and mine. But they sure are a lifesaver when you’re trying to sort information and make sense of the world. What a blessing that all those social bookmark and photo gadgets let me invent tags and cluster terms. Imagine we had to categorise *our world* by recourse to drop down lists a la mid-90s yahoo directory? i feel like idiosyncratic taxonomies help maintain sanity. But they are bound to isolate unless we persistently take care to adapt and bridge them in a way that generates folksonomies and hell ya, standards.

Hey Maya,
Great point. Idiosyncratic taxonomies are interesting in and of themselves, and are in a way a method for each of us to expose our own "tagging idiolects". It’s fascinating and fun, and much better than a drop down list.
Bridging the gap is then the next step.

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