by Ed Sofield
The deception of language ……. why can’t I think of anything in particular to comment on? The words flow like sugar water-falls in Willy Wonka’s factory when I’m under the influence of any number of extraneous substances ….. when my body chemistry is normalized, my brain can’t seem to function in the same way.
Anyway – where was I? ….. right, the deception of language. Ask ten people on the streets of any Amerikan town what the word ‘decimate’ means and three of them will give you the correct answer: to destroy, completely and thorougly. Another two of those ten people (and that’s being generous) will grasp the meaning of the word from contextual use: “Attila the Hun decimated some friggin village a long time ago.” Among the other fifty per-cent of those polled will be your average beer-swilling, television worshipping, brain-dead, monosyllabic cretins with a ninth-grade education …… once again, I’m being generous here.
‘So what? That’s like a fifty percent success rate,’ you say. ‘I’m sure that’s preferable to a zero success rate, right?’ you ask. None of that is the point. The word decimate, and it’s current definition (‘rip asunder’ …. I’ve been wanting to write that phrase down for years) are actually incorrect. Decimation was a war-time or invasion practice of destroying ten percent of everything in a given region. You got two hundred straw huts with a young filly inside each one? Genghis Khan and his rowdy crew are gonna give you a chance: he’s burnin’ down twenty of those huts ….. but not before having his way with twenty of those unwilling ladies. Seeing how effeciantly he tore down your shit, you, as village leader, would give him what he requests with no further delay.
The root of decimate is deci-, meaning ten (think Dewey Decimal System …. another phrase that was buring a hole in my pocket). I guess not too many villagers ended up giving in to the practice of decimation, because over time the definition (and practice) of destroying ten percent as a warning turned into invading and levelling said village with or without a warning.
Let’s try another one. Lunatic. Sure, almost everyone in this country knows what that one means, seeing as how half our Congress is composed of them (search the net for a related news story in which a kindergarden-ish verbal spat on Capitol Hill ended up with the police being called ….. to Capitol Hill). However, the root of this particular word is Luna, or the moon. Following me? No? Fuck off, then, and let me explain.
It’s been at least a hundred years since any doctor has made a diagnosis of manic-depression or schizophrenia based on the posistion of the moon in the sky (PMS notwithstanding) …. don’t you think after a certain amount of time a term could be changed from it’s archaic use to better reflect the knowledge we as humans have gained?
I know, when I’m in my druthers (usually thanks to beer …. hooray beer! … or botanicals), that homo sapien sapien is moving towards a future in which language will not be necessary; communication will occur from conciousness to conciousness, directly, in the form of mental pictures or emotions and colors. However, while we’re stuck in the dark ages it might be productive to funnel our resources into being as truthful with ourselves and each other …. doing so might actually prevent a couple wars, or (at the very least) do away with every form of out-of-date political theory and get Dubya the hell out of Washington and back to Texarkana where he and his entire clan quite obviously belong.
Next week: A study on the universal appeal of Will and Grace (zang!).