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Silence, Language, & Society: A guide to style and meaning, grace and compassion
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First, the title indicates a philosophical reflection on language. Besides a few chops about silence, it is not that, but, rather, a feisty book about usage.
Second, Fiske is repetitive with his insults, often lambasting "laxographers" (his neologism) and "descriptive linguists". Insults abound, some on point, others mean-spirited. I question some of his resolute judgments. Take one: "It ain't over till its over," which is attributed to Yogi Berra. This is not a tautology because Berra was talking about the logic of baseball. Since baseball does not run on a clock, but proceeds according to a set number of outs, it is possible that a team could be down by 10 runs (or any number) with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and win the same. But in clock-oriented sports, come comebacks are impossible, because there is not enough time to score six touch downs or make thirty-five baskets. Therefore, Fiske, in his passion to condemn idiocy and bad taste, blunders badly.
Third, I doubt there is much here not found in one Fiske's other books. Fourth, he often chides or condemns dictionaries of the descriptive sort, such as Miriam-Websters. But he sometimes seems to condemn then all! If so, where do we go for authoritative meanings? He does not say, except to offer himself.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word remains. Since all our words answer to the Word, let us mind our words well.
"Alas, where one man sees a goal - bright, beautiful, magnificent - another sees a gargoyle - ugly, repulsive, grotesque. Goal or gargoyle, magnificent or monstrous, still, let us not, at the end of our lives, have cause to curse the cowardliness with which we lived them."
"Be silent and all you neglected to consider, all you failed to feel, all you hoped to say will unfold before you."
"Life is measured by its meaning, and a good deal of that meaning is inherent in the words we use. If so many of our words are superfluous - and thus do not signify - so much of our life is, ineluctably, meaningless."
"A person who expresses himself with genuineness instead of in jargon, with feeling instead of with formulas, is capable as few have been, as few are, and as few will be; this is a person to heed."
"The only meaning in life is what we assign to it. Similarly, we assign meaning to the principal way we express meaning, to our words. If we fail to observe the meaning of our words, we contribute to the meaninglessness of our lives."
"Swear words are among the least expressive words available to us. They are boring and boorish at once. Using scatological phrases and swear words no longer shocks anyone and suggests only that you are not clever enough to think of better, more meaningful words.Read more ›