The Evolution of Language

Over the last few months, I enjoyed the enormous thrill of doing some work for Dictionary.com, a site which I (and most writers) have certainly used as a research database for many years. Aside from being one of the most exciting companies I could ever imagine writing for, there was a sheer pleasure to the process itself. Researching words. Looking into the history of the language. Figuring out how words evolve. Words are how we sculpt ideas, and we can track the evolution of culture through the words we use.

The non-words of today are the words of tomorrow. Consider the term “ponytail,” once clearly modeled after an actual pony’s tail, but now ubiquitous with a hairstyle. Or the way we refer to the “legs” of a chair. Language is fascinating, because of what it says about how we think.

Language is not only our most characteristic invention. It’s us.

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The true beauty of language, I think, is in its inherent fluidity. The words we use today frame the concepts that we’re talking about, the comparisons that we’re making, the joining of one idea to another. Because of this, I think new words are something to be embraced, not resisted; while terms like “hangry” and “man bun” might sound silly today, they represent the conceptualization of attitudes, styles, and behaviors that did exist before, but have now been given a new representation within this culture.

Language never stops evolving, because people  — and the way we think — never stops evolving either. While humans always have a tendency to romanticize some era of their past, the truth is that culture must continue progressing forward. Things have to change. Attitudes have to evolve, and then evolve past whatever they evolved into. It’s what culture does. So it’s important that we always open our eyes to the future, and always stay interested in what’s ahead.

 

The Problem with Periods in Text Messaging

You ever know someone who is a genuine person, except when it comes to text messages? A friend you get along fantastically well with in person, through emails, on Facebook, and so on  but for some reason, when it comes to text messaging, they always seem like they have a really negative attitude? As if the act of texting makes them abrupt, disingenuous, and callous?

Well, the answer might be due to his little mark here:

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It might seem hard to believe, but the most innocuous punctuation mark of all is the enemy of friendly text message communication. While a lack of periods would make books, blogs, articles, and even emails almost totally unreadable, the use of periods in shorter form text messages actually does a person no favors.

In text messages, ending your text with a full stop/period comes off as cold, ill-tempered, or passive aggressive. Thanks to years of instant messaging services, sentences (or sometimes parts of sentences, or ideas) in a chat window are generally expected to end with a line break, as this makes a clear enough distinction between one sentence and the next. In this way, texting is more similar to poetry than a letter. For example:

It’s important to remember that every punctuation mark matters

But form varies depending on the medium

And texts shouldn’t end on a full stop

This is necessary, to convey proper meaning

Or you risk being misintepreted

And that’s no use to anyone

So pay attention

Above, the line break does the work of breaking apart ideas. So the use of a period in a text seems as if you’re using it for a reason, and thus makes the recipient of your text question why you used it, if only subconsciously. And usually, this usage of a period is interpreted negatively.

Now, this doesn’t mean periods are going the way of the dinosaur. In this blog, for example, periods are needed in order to break apart sentences, because all of these sentences are put together in a body of text. In texting, for better or worse, this is not the case, due to the fact that people have been trained on instant messenger services for years to expect line breaks instead of periods. Of course, whether you use full stops or not is up to you, but if one is going to use texts to begin with, one should understand the psychology behind them  so one isn’t surprised when they get less-than-cheerful results.

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According to a study by NPR, if you end your text message with a full stop, people will think that you’re purposely being insincere. It seems intentional. NPR’s analysis is that because texting is so conversational, it functions by rules more like an actual conversation than emails; emails require more time and investment, which is why they more closely resemble snail mail letters, and tend to have more thought put into them. Texting, on the other hand, is like chatting; in real life conversations, people subconsciously analyze one another’s body language, tone, and expressions to interpret meaning, and in texts, people tend to do the same thing. But in texting, there’s no physical evidence to survey, so people instead subconsciously analyze grammar, word choice, and punctuation. Which means that a period, while almost invisible in an email, is very noticeable at the end of a text. Most of the time, it’s interpreted as a sign of passive aggressiveness.

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Now, on a personal note, I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of texting to begin with. Actually, I do whatever I can to avoid it. Don’t get me wrong. Texting has its uses. When it comes to simple, short messages, such as needing to confirm a location or wanting to let someone know an arrival time or address, texting is great. It’s also nice for leaving people complimentary notes, along the lines of a shorter-form email: for example, after seeing an old friend, it’s nice to shoot them a text that says “Awesome to see you, man!” as a small little token of appreciation.

But for conversations that require a lot of back and forth correspondence? No thanks. For debates or arguments? Hell no, that should either be in person or in a phone call, where I can at least get some sense of the human being on the other end of the cell phone; really, that defines exactly why I dislike texting, because most of human communication isn’t just in the content of a message. Physical cues, vocal inflections, deeper meanings, all of that tends to get lost in the sometimes hostile world of Textland™.

Unlike emails, blogs, and comments, texting is immediate, less deliberate, and under the same pressures as regular conversation; you can take a day to respond to an email, but you can’t take more than an hour to respond to a text. Texting, as opposed to doing a phone call, makes it easier to send stressful messages, because you don’t have to see or hear a human being on the other end. But losing that human connection, painful as real human interactions may sometimes be, is inherently dangerous. Texting bypasses everything that makes actual human conversation painful, awkward, and anxiety-inducing… but texting also bypasses everything that makes actual human conversation meaningful.

But texting has its uses. In this new, digital, globalized age, it’s here to stay, and there’s no point pretending that it’s going to go away: instead, we should focus on refining it, making it better, and understanding why so many are drawn to it. Texting has become a useful communication tool for a lot of people, and it’s important to recognize that. But as a new form of communication, it’s also important to understand the rules of it before breaking them, and thus causing misunderstandings.

So, regarding periods…

Bottom line, when it comes to texts

We should end them

Like this

And people won’t misinterpret our intentions

Thanks for reading! Comment below, and let’s hear your thoughts.

 

 

The “Other” is Not the Enemy

The human race is not a jigsaw puzzle. We’re not perfectly shaped pieces that all fit into a greater whole, together forming a perfect image. Instead whether by grace, fate, or coincidence, depending on your beliefs we are jagged-edged oddities, each one misshapen and clunky, each one reaching out for a sense of belonging.

We all have our flaws. That’s common knowledge, sure, but something that can’t be repeated enough. And probably one of the human race’s worst tendencies  if not the worst tendency  is our terrible urge to tribalize. To fragment. To sort ourselves into categories. To differentiate between a supposedly good, just, and moral “us”… and to then contrast this so-called us against a diametrically opposed “them,” who is supposedly unkind, unjust, and immoral.

This line of thinking bottles entire groups of people according to a handful of exaggerated traits, ripping away each person’s individuality. Thankfully, human language has also given us a term to bottle such behavior into, and that term is prejudice.

It’s an ugly word, isn’t it? But a fittingly ugly word, for an equally ugly behavior.

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Every day, all across the world, we see entire groups of people boxed into the “Other” label. We see racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Class warfare. Religious groups pigeonhole other religious groups according to their most extreme members. Belief systems are mocked. The older and younger generations both blame each other for society’s woes. The sick, the disabled, and the mentally ill are written off as less than human. When you’re at work, even first shift and second shift always blame everything on each other, or perhaps both of them blame it all on third shift. In each case, it all comes down to one group blaming their problems on a monstrous Other.

Here’s the truth, though. The brutal truth.

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The Other is exactly like you. In both a cosmic sense and a physical one, every single member of the Other a carbon-based lifeform, a fleshy sack of muscles, bones, and tendons wrapped up in skin, combined with hopes, dreams, and perhaps a soul has more in common with you than you can possibly imagine.

The Other has reasons for the way they think. The Other can’t control the social, environmental, or genetic features that have determined their birth, beliefs, and appearance. To write off the Other is to believe that your narrow view of the world, so much of which has been determined by your surroundings and personal history, is the only view that matters. It’s hard to get more solipsistic than that.

There is no Other. The Other is you.

The Other - Shadow - Stranger

When you travel around the world, when you go from “developed” nations to “developing” countries, when you see the rich and the poor, one lesson that hammers itself home forever is the fact that no matter where you go, people are always the same. People are people. People laugh, cry, and dream. Children play games. Families eat together.

Despite this, certain cultures and groups of people not only have become marginalized, but the oppression they have faced has lasted for generations. Time goes on, but stereotypes persist.

Perhaps ending tribalization is impossible. It’s been a part of human civilization since the beginning, after all. But if we at least attempt to recognize it any time it rears its ugly head, to see it in our world instead of denying that it exists, we can start moving in the right direction. If we fight back against the voices that tell us to segment, to stereotype, to pigeonhole, then we can properly open up the floor for real discussions that need to be had.

If each of us makes the best effort we can to accept others, to have real conversations, then maybe there’s a chance of breaking down the boundaries.

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The Connection Between Myers-Briggs and the Philosopher’s Wheel

I read an interesting article this morning by E. Alan Meece, concerning various connections between the different Myers-Briggs types and the Philosopher’s Wheel.  You can read the article here, and it’s a fascinating piece – especially for those of us who already have an interest in MBTI typology.  It also includes the below image, which is pretty neat:

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Image by E. Alan Meece.