On the phone last night my Mum told me an anecdote. She told me about a “talk” the headmaster had delivered to her class on the subject of choosing and following the right path. Following a long build-up, during which the head explained that choosing to follow one road could lead to certain positive outcomes while the other could net negative results (only in language suited to lower primary children!), he picked out a few children and asked them which road they would be following. Several kids picked the right answer, as you would expect… but then one little girl said something that threw him completely.
“I wouldn’t pick either. I don’t live on those roads.”
English is this little girl’s second language, and as such she was without the cultural understanding of English use to be able to grasp the metaphor. Despite a lengthy set-up, the entire topic had been lost on her.
I started to think about the use of language as an inclusive or exclusive force. When the ex and I broke up, one of the things I lamented most ardently was the loss of our shared vocabulary – the daft words, phrases and structures we employed as a marker of our relationship. Within my friendships, there are certain words and phrases that can convey a particular meaning, or symbolise the closeness of our bond – Nat is always addressed “Hey baby!”, Dapper can collapse into fits of (manly) giggles if I drop “Seriously?” into conversation, and various amongst my uni buddies would gladly “walk blindfolded across the M6” for one another while wondering where exactly the rain comes from… (I love you all!)
And then there’s the language of this blog. Some of it is exclusively British English, as my lovely international readers let me know when they have to look up a particular word or phrase. Some of it is distinctly old-fashioned, words and word orders that have been dropped from common usage. And some of it is deliberately skewed: misused and abused phrases like “all sewed up” (“all sewn up” would be correct) and “nor nuthink” (“or anything”), incorrect spellings (there’s that “nuthink” again), sentences broken up with question marks, for emphasis (I think that one is Amber‘s fault – she uses it to such excellent humourous effect!) and a general disrespect for the grammar for which, as an editor, you’d think I’d be a stickler.
The language of the blogosphere is an interesting beast. Unlike more restrictive social media platforms, blogs allow us room to write correctly. And yet, so often bloggers choose to distort their native tongue, playing with words, making verbs from nouns and messing with tenses, and plain ignoring précis in favour of elaborate prose. Metaphors are stretched to extremes, tested, indeed, until they snap. Pop culture references are rife, particularly if they’re niche-specific.
For my part, I think this rebellion is what makes blogging so spectacular. Every blogger has their own unmistakable voice, every blog its own individual style. The combination of liberation from spacial constraints and the non-restrictive nature of web-based writing creates a vaccuum in which anything goes, and into which creativity can pour without limitation. Those without the necessary understanding to twist and exploit language will continue to write badly, and flounder or improve accordingly. But those with the requisite knowledge and vocabulary are finally given the opportunity to shine.