Sunday, August 22, 2010

Syntax

Of course language is not an infallible guide, but it contains, with all its defects, a good deal of stored insight and experience.
--C.S. Lewis, "The Four Loves"

Every time I pick up a book by C.S. Lewis I find myself captivated. The way he seems to pick words solely by intuition is a trait I admire and covet. One of my professors at Calvin, Paulo Ribeiro (who spent the first fifteen minutes of each class period reading or reflecting on C.S. Lewis's writing), once mentioned that according to a colleague or student of Lewis's claimed that even his first drafts were publishable insofar as their lack of errors and elegance of word choice.

As I said, I often find myself jealous of that ability. Every once in a while I will type out a phrase and think, "Hmm, that says exactly what I want it to say, and just how I want it to," but even after many revisions, I rarely end up with prose I'm entirely satisfied with. Reading C.S. Lewis makes me want to try again, though.

I began reading "The Four Loves" tonight, and was struck by the truth and conciseness of many passages. The passage quoted at the start of this post was written in reference to the usage of, not surprisingly, the word "love" in certain circumstances. While it most definitely applies in that specific situation, it also applies in a more general sense as well.

We cannot simply toss words around without considering their history and connotations.

Often people, including myself on countless occasions, claim ignorance or social injustice when defending their word choice, and I'm beginning to realize that those excuses are simply not appropriate. When called out for using a racial slur such as the pervasive "n-word," responding by saying, "If they can use it, why can't I?" is at best ineffective. Using such a retort ignores the fact that this word actually does carry a huge amount of baggage, and should be treated as such.

Needless to say, this is something I need to work on as much as anyone (not that I've been tossing around racial slurs or anything...), and I plan to at least try to be more cognizant of my word choices.

There are about a dozen other short passes in the introduction to "The Four Loves" that caught my attention, and I am sure I will have written about a few of them by the time I finish the book. It is not long, only 100 pages or so, and if the introduction is anything like the rest of the book (or any of Lewis's other works for that matter), I would highly recommend picking it up.

I'm sure I'll have plenty of other topics to write about in the near future as I move to Ann Arbor, start classes, explore the city, and do all the fun stuff that comes along with that. I'm nervous, but I can't wait to get settled and into a groove over there.

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