The document is approximately 3,062 words long.
This essay is LiteraShare.
That means that it isn't for sale and that it isn't protected by a formal
establishment copyright. As the author, I ask you to extend to me
the courtesy that is reasonably due. If you copy the essay, then
copy all of it including my name and address as shown on each page, and
this LiteraShare Statement. I invite you to provide such copies for
other readers. If you quote from the essay, then do so accurately
and give me credit. If you care to make a voluntary contribution
to me, then I prefer cash. For checks, money orders, or PayPal payments,
I'm using this dedication to answer a question that Poppa asked me many years ago. "Son," he asked, "if it takes a woodpecker a week to peck a pack of shingles out of a board fence, then how long does it take a rooster to lay a doorknob?" After 35 years, I think that I know the answer. Roosters don't lay doorknobs. They lay hens and hens lay eggs, which are shaped like doorknobs. But what was Poppa really trying to tell me? "Son," he solemnly intoned, "you'll never understand a woman." He already had me thinking about roosters and there must have been a reason. Maybe he was trying to tell me that women don't get laid if they're chicken.
I wonder what he taught Betty. I once heard him ask her, "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" Maybe he was trying to tell her something about having studs around her in the home. I wonder what she concluded. And now,
The Lone Raver!
Meanwhile, Back At the Ranch, Tonto (Disguised As A Cigarette) Was Getting His Butt Stomped
From an early age, I've been puzzled by our language. Way back in the dark ages of the good old days, when I was unraveling the purposes of the various parts of my body, I concluded that thinking happened in my nose. The conclusion was logical, given two considerations. First, I was aware of only those parts of my body that I could see or touch. At that age, no one knows about his brain. Second, I was tricked by the language, with which I was already struggling. I'd heard such things as, "a smart man knows a lot." I missed the distinction between knows and nose.
I also misunderstood the word understand. When my mother commented that she didn't understand something, it made perfectly good sense to me. I could stand under the table quite easily but she obviously couldn't because she was too tall. Today, I wonder why we call it a building long after they're through building it. Why don't we call it a built? Flies fly. Why don't birds bird? Or better yet, why aren't all flying things called flies? Why does your nose run and your feet smell? Oranges are orange. Why aren't apples called reds? Why do we call the part you sit on your bottom? Your feet are lower down than your bottom, so shouldn't they be the bottom? Why is a court brief so long? If hens roost and roosters crow, then what do crows do? Why is a man on a horse called a cowboy, a horseman, or even a cowman, but never a horseboy? Why is it that a female actor is an actress but a female adult isn't an adulteress? Sometimes. Why are there schools of fish, gaggles of geese, herds of cows, excuse me cattle, coveys of quail, prides of lions, and bunches of everything else, except for flocks of birds? And what about bunches of grapes and bananas, which aren't the same as those other bunches? Why do female dogs, but male ducks, geese, and chickens get special names designating gender? Our ability to understand things is conditioned by our language. No wonder we're confused.
As an exercise, try to think of something, a concept, an action, a thing, for which you don't have a name. It's difficult. Yet, there are hundreds of concepts, actions, and things that exist besides those for which you have nouns or verbs. Why can't you think of one? Here's one for you. It's a simple concept but one that isn't generally used. In the generic sense, what do you call something to write with? It could be a pen, a pin, a pencil, a chalk, a lipstick, a burnt stick, an unburned stick in the dirt, a keyboard, or anything else that you can write with. Everybody has had one version or another of this conversation:
Speaker 1: Will you loan me a pencil?
Speaker 2: All I have is a pen.
Speaker 1: That's alright. Just something to write with.
Why have we never conceptualized a generic writing implement?
Because nobody ever invented a word for it? Probably. Communication
and understanding are made possible by vocabulary, but even more important,
miscommunication and misunderstanding are made possible by the lack of
vocabulary. So, I've coined some words. A
writewith is anything that you can write with. A writeon is anything that you can write on. A writeonwith is one of each. Now you'll never again have to ask for a pencil when just anything will do.
It's a fact that there are many words missing from our language. A woman who's never been laid is called a virgin.1 A woman who's had a baby is called a mother. So, what noun designates a woman who's been laid but never had a baby? How about a woman who's pregnant? There isn't a noun to describe her. Such gaps influence not only communication,but thought. It might be a subtle thing and often unrecognized because people don't usually miss what they've never had. Yet, the consequences can be profound. Consider, for example, pairs of antonyms. One pair is bad and good. We all understand those words. From the time that we were children, we've been yelled at for being bad and praised for being good.2 We've had lots of experience with both words and it's easy to think of ourselves, or of others, as bad or as good. Consider, however, the verb to sin, meaning to disobey God. There isn't an antonym for the verb to sin. That is, if to sin is bad then what is it called to be good? If someone disobeys God, then he sins. If he obeys God, then he doesn't have a verb to describe his action and thus, in a very real sense, no action has occurred. Someone who commits a sin is a sinner. Someone who commits a (--?--) is nameless.
When a Christian evaluates his actions, the influence of his vocabulary is unavoidable. He might easily decide that he's a sinner. But his alternatives for its opposite consist only of clumsy phrases such as virtuous man, doer of good deeds, long-sufferer, and so forth. It isn't surprising that Christians all consider themselves to be sinners. They lack the vocabulary to do otherwise.
the twisted way that Christians have of looking at things, suffering is
associated with virtue and sin is associated with pleasure. I suppose
that the closest Christian antonym for sin is suffer. Maybe
that explains why Christians are so hung-up on suffering. They have
to make everything as painful as possible so that they can be Christ-like.
Maybe somebody should tell them that it isn't working.
On a Bicycle Built for Two
The correspondence of reality and vocabulary can be illustrated by example.
In the bicycle business, with which I'm familiar, there has recently been
introduced on derailleur type bicycles something called an indexed shifter.
With an indexed shifter, there are little detents that click whenever you
shift the gears. Previously, you simply slid the shifter and "felt"
for the gears. Before indexed shifting, there were only shifters.
When the new ones appeared, they got a new name,
indexed, but then
the old ones didn't have a name anymore. They could no longer be
called shifters because that word now applies to two different kinds.
By default, the old ones became non-indexed shifters. A lack
of distinguishing vocabulary goes hand-in-hand with a lack of categories
described by the vocabulary.
Neither Do I Condemn Thee: Go, and Sin No More (He Said)
Presently, the only category of Christian actions described by Christian vocabulary is sins. Things that are not sins are not named in the vocabulary. Since there aren't any other names, there aren't any other categories. Suffering isn't really a category of actions. It's the Christian condition that results from trying to avoid everything. All things are sins and all men are sinners. Clearly, a missing word has influenced Christian thinking. You don't believe me? Remember how hard it was to think of a concept for which you didn't have a name? Remember how much easier it was after I coined the word writewith? The Nazarene told the woman not to sin anymore but whether he told her what to do instead remains unreported in English. If he did tell her what to do instead, then we don't have a word for it. Maybe she suffered a lot. Self-esteem among Christians could be substantially improved by the invention of an antonym of the word sin.
I propose the word amen. To amen is to obey God.
Amening is the process of obeying God. One who obeys God is an amener.
By golly, it even rhymes with sin (close enough), so that it'll be easy
to write lots of hymns about them both!
The world's first religious limerick, by gum! Not only that, every prayer and hymn already ends with amen! Hallelujah, Amen!3
The introduction of the word amen makes it a whole new ball game because it creates a whole new category of Christian actions, amens. Since you've read this, you're stuck. You can't avoid it now because you have the vocabulary. From now on, you'll have to assign actions to one category or the other. You can't just call everything a sin anymore. You'll have to determine what is which. Is what you did a sin (forbidden action) or an amen (required action)? However, the BIG bonus is the discovery that some actions don't fit EITHER category. Thus, another category of actions, neutral ones, will arise. It will be possible for Christians to engage in activities that need not be either sins or amens. Lets call them rads. A man who commits a rad is a radder, which is what I'd radder be.
This might come as a revelation to many Christians. To a devout
Christian, adultery might still be a sin and tithing might still be an
amen. But that same Christian might now be able to go skinny-dipping
(alone, of course!) with no thought of either penalty or reward.
He might do it just for the pleasure of the experience. If it isn't
forbidden at least by implication, then it can't be a sin. If it
isn't required at least by implication, then it can't be an amen.
The existence of a whole category of neutral actions might go a long way
toward removing some of the needless and arbitrary fear and guilt from
Christian belief. I'm not aware that God ever said, "Thou shalt not
Now Where Was I? Oh Yeah.
My example with antonyms wasn't an accident. Antonyms are important. George Orwell gave them special consideration in Ingsoc's Newspeak Dictionary.4 Professed therein was the idea that antonyms are unnecessary, that each word implies its opposite, that (for example) all possible opposites of good can be named by ungood.
by the apparent simplicity of that belief is a great fallacy. Opposites
do not define one another. The meaning of a thing isn't contained
within its opposite. Ungood cannot take the place, simultaneously,
of evil, wicked,
and sinful. Meaning can be obscured or lost by a glib or careless
use of negative forms of words to form alleged opposites. And it
doesn't work anyway. Even and odd are opposites, but
doesn't mean the same thing as odd.5
The goal of Newspeak was to reduce people's ability to think. Its
method was to reduce their vocabulary.
If You Call A Tail A Leg, Then How Many Legs Does A Sheep Have?
Indeed, we don't need fewer words. We need more of them. That's obvious from the way that people keep inventing new ones. It happens all the time. Radar. Quasar. Quark. Clone. Shareware. Vaporware. New words represent new thoughts. I've invented a few words myself. Here are some of them. Butl, from Blight Upon The Land, means new houses, new apartments, new shopping malls, new office buildings, new freeways, etc., when there are already far too many of them. Shitware is either hardware or software that doesn't work correctly. A knockee is a pregnant woman. Most of the women who've heard that one don't like it but none of them have suggested anything better so they're stuck with it until they do. I thought about layer for a woman who's been laid but we already use that word for a certain category of chickens and a woman who's a layer certainly isn't chicken so I guess we really need a better word. Let me know if you have any suggestions. LiteraShare is the way that I publish these essays. A sago is a Sweetie of the Appropriate Gender and Orientation. That is, a heterosexual woman can be a sago to a heterosexual man, a heterosexual man can be a sago to a heterosexual woman, a homosexual man can be a sago to another homosexual man, and a homosexual woman can be a sago to another homosexual woman. The word can really simplify conversations between folks with different sexual preferences. And finally there's jugger, a lovely word that I didn't invent although I wish that I had. I certainly appreciate the observations of the unknown man who did. A jugger is a woman running for exercise.
Yup, it's a strange language.6
A terminal disease will end your life, yet you begin a bus or plane trip
at a terminal. So, how do we tell the beginning from the end?
Not only that, what is the end? Is the end where it stops, or is
the end what it accomplished? Do the means justify the end, or does
the end have meaning? Those questions might have several meanings,
depending on the meaning of
end and mean. Although
I'm not a man of means, you can see that I mean well. Sometimes,
the meaning of a thing is impossible to decipher:
Where did he end? And when?
Lewis Carroll said,
But what was he really trying to tell us? This essay is over, but this is not the end. Or is it?