A more meaningful vocabulary

What an earth-unifying event! I'm sure you would have picked that up as a substitute for the more commonly known phrase, 'earth-shattering'. Do words we use matter, in informing our outlook and actions, both subliminally and explicitly?

I was thinking today about how language is redolent with power relations. Many astute people have noted that we often have to come up with our own vocabulary rather than imbibe words and their attendant meanings by the prevalent military power structure.

It is reflective of our state of affairs, for example, that there is currently no word for 'non-violence' in English, aside from the cover-all term 'peace', that is not defined as a negation i.e. with 'non'.

Even simple idioms we use everyday can be illuminating. There are a plethora of common sayings so entrenched they are cliches: "taking a stab in the dark", "many ways to skin a cat" and "killing two birds with one stone" all use rather violent images to ascribe metaphoric meaning to taking a chance, doing things by different means, and doing two things with one act, respectively. Whilst they may seem to be small matters in apparently singular examples, I think there is ample evidence that our words and language does implicitly privilege and elevate the vocabulary of war and violence.

More examples:
  • 'bombshell' - a weighty piece of news or an attractive female - also 'drop-dead' gorgeous
  • 'went ballistic' - angry
  • 'you're killing me' - mirth (!) or pressure
  • even grammar: an oblique stroke ( / ) is called a 'slash' (I was always taught stroke)
Surely language need not always use violence to best convey action, gravity, desire or resolve? While we all know the more overt instances of 'if it bleeds, it leads' as a news 'value' in the mainstream media, our movies too reveal and reflect these values. Though I can not remember who said it, it is a trenchant observation that a movie may be in line for receiving an "X" rating for kissing a breast, yet only an "R" for chopping one off.

There are a few glimmerings of promise, however, and I came across an enchanting word recently from a prominent US thinker who, though he was well known, I am only just discovering. That thinker is Buckminster Fuller, the 'Dymaxion American', he who coined the term 'spaceship earth'.

The word that caught my attention is LIVINGRY.

Livingry is juxtaposed to weaponry and killingry and means that which is in support of all human, plant, and Earth life.

“The architectural profession–civil, naval, aeronautical, and astronautical–has always been the place where the most competent thinking is conducted regarding livingry, as opposed to weaponry.” — Critical Path, page xxv

So dear friends and budding wordsmiths, let us take our example from this inspired American thinker and help build up a vocabulary of sustainability, pluralism, peace, enchantment, and may coining these words contribute to a currency of better relations between us, as language both informs as well as reflects social behavior.


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