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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Obfuscation of Language (and the State of Things)

This is not a drill: The Blogger gods are trying to smite me.

At the time of writing, this is the third re-write of this essay. The first time, Blogger just freaking deleted it after I had been writing for 4 hours, and the second time, after about 6-7 hours of progress--even further than I got the first time--I instinctively hit "CTRL + Z" out of habit, which normally will undo the last word you typed, but instead it undid everything I typed from start to finish, and it auto-saved immediately. When I tried to undo the undo it was like "Nah."

So I need you to understand that if you're reading this, which you are, it means I had to write, re-write and then re-write again this same big-ass essay for like, 15-20 hours. I hope this time I can get it out properly before Blogger smites me. I'm going to religiously copy-and-paste everything I type here into a Google doc just to be safe, because I don't trust Blogger any more than I trust the alibi, "The glove didn't fit." Also just a heads-up, this essay is long, feel free to take your time or read in sections.

Suck a cock blogger.

Moving on, I'd like to mention my own personal "political policy," it you will. Feel free to skip this part if you just want to get to the essay--I'll label it for you.

Generally, I see two schools of thought; the first I'll call the "apolitical" route and the second the "freedom of speech" route.

I tend to lean more toward the former but allow me to elaborate. When it comes to content creators, people are put off by being bombarded with political opinions. If some chick clicks on a fashion blog, she's there to read about fashion, not your political rant. If someone watches a YouTube video essay about writing or creative story-telling, they're there to learn about writing, not for your political opinions that nobody asked for.

However, I understand where they're coming from. It would be ridiculous to suggest that content creators can't also have strong political opinions outside of their content, and that's fine. I think the bigger issue people have with it is when they use their platform that was built on fans of one thing to expose as many people as possible to their ill-informed worldview. That was the primary reason I couldn't stick with Chris Brecheen's writing blog; it felt alienating going to his blog to read his writing advice only to be lectured to and insulted for my political beliefs which have absolutely nothing to do with writing. But even if I did agree with his political opinions, I would still be annoyed because it would seem like he was just preaching to the choir when all I want is writing advice, not political rants.

But what about freedom of speech? Don't content creators have the right to say whatever they want?

Sure. That doesn't mean they should, but they have the right to.

Here's what I think the best compromise is; if they talk about politics a lot, make a separate blog or YouTube channel for it. Have your main platform just for the original purpose it was made for, and have a secondary spin-off platform for fringe stuff. That's something that no reasonable person would have an issue with. Even if a content creator's personal or political views are the exact opposite of mine, I have no issue with that whatsoever if it doesn't affect their content. Because at the end of the day, I judge a creator's worth by what they create, not what they're like in person. It ties in with separating the art from the artist. You might not like a person, but you can still like what they do.

It's worth noting, however, that if someone only rarely brings up political topics, they shouldn't be expected to create a whole separate blog or YouTube channel for it.

For example, I can only think of maybe two-to-three times in this entire blog's history where I said anything political, and both times I labeled them so that the reader could skip them if they wanted to. Personally, I find that to be the best option for creators in my situation. If you don't normally talk about anything political but make an exception one time because it somehow directly ties into your main point, just give the reader the ability to skip over it. No one could say you're abusing your platform if you do that. I can't tell you how insufferable it is having your favorite channels and creators all suddenly getting up on their soapbox to lecture you about politics. I do believe that they have the right to express those opinions, but they could at least respect their audience enough to separate the political from non-political content.

Alright, rant over.

Actual essay starts here:

I'll cut straight to the point; partial or complete illiteracy is an epidemic in America, and I have strong reason to believe that there is, not only a direct correlation, but causation between literacy and cognitive ability.

But it's much more than that--it's not merely "Literate people have high IQ," it's more like words themselves or the lacktherof can behave as gatekeepers preventing the subject from grasping abstract concepts or complex ideas.

Allow me to explain.

It's easy to dismiss this argument by simply pointing to the false cause fallacy. You can say, "Maybe literacy doesn't improve intelligence, but instead intelligence leads to literacy."

That's a valid counter-argument on the surface, but there's a few major problems with it. The first is that the causation is unilateral; people don't become intelligent and then well-spoken, they become well-spoken first. This is not the type of thing that any studies would have meaningful data on, so I can really only make a priori arguments, but I think you'll find them to be quite potent.

In order to understand why words directly affect a person's ability to formulate ideas, we must understand exactly what a word is. There are a few different schools of thought, but I'll tell you which one I believe is the correct one. Words are handles that give abstract ideas a tangible thing to hold on to.

To some extent, you can kind of argue that people are intelligent first and well-spoken second, because you need to have a firm understanding of an abstract idea in order to explain it verbally, but that observation actually feeds back into my hypothesis.

No one can explain complex ideas simply if they don't already have a concrete understanding of it, but you can't develop a concrete understanding of something without an adequate grasp of the best words to describe it. With this in mind, the more complex an idea or set of ideas are, the more fluent you have to be in your respective language to both completely understand its inner machinations as well as develop the ability to explain it to others in a way that they can understand.

I first started to suspect this when I encountered a few individuals who blew me away both with how well they were able to formulate verbal explanations as well as their ability to formulate ideas.

The great speakers and thinkers of our era such as Jordan Peterson and Galatea van Outersterp simultaneously take my breath away with how fiercely intelligent they are and how easily they can give corporeal form to extremely complex ideas. The poetic simplicity of how they present mental objects is evidence of both their understanding of the ideas as well as their understanding of the English language.

Whenever I have the pleasure of hearing one of these two speak, I am both tremendously impressed and horribly humbled. It's hard not to see people as admirably disciplined in thought as these two and not feel a terrible sense of inadequacy. But this did lead to an interesting exchange of ideas that I had with myself while writing this essay.

For those who don't know, Jordan Peterson's wife was hospitalized for reasons I don't entirely know--I think it was cancer--and JP was prescribed anti-depressants by his doctor. The anti-depressant medication he was given was addictive, so shortly after Jordan Peterson sought medical help to rehabilitate him.

In one angry exchange of words I had with another person, they tried to write off everything Jordan Peterson has ever said because "Oh, he's just a drug addict." So that's kinda annoying, the man's wife was dying in front of him and he was given prescription medication that he didn't actually need, give him a break. Not to mention that a person can be flawed and still have valuable ideas to contribute to society. Someone on the Internet actually said something really cute and really intelligent in response to JP's critics coming after him for this, and they said, "We should be allowed to do a little bit of good and then fall apart behind the scenes without people talking about it." I adore that phrase so much. For all of my harsh criticisms of the Internet, stuff like that reminds me of why I love it anyway.

Anyway, seeing what he was going through actually made me feel a little bit better about my own shortcomings, because here was a man who was the very personification of spiritual and intellectual integrity going through some rough shit, just like any other regular person. In other words, it proved he was human, and not this avatar of life advice and rhetoric that I had initially made him out to be.

But then I was immediately humbled again when I realized how terribly selfish it was to be relieved that someone developed an addiction to medication and had a wife who was hospitalized for cancer purely because it made me feel better about my own insecurities, so we've come full circle.

(This next bit is somewhat politically controversial)

Similarly, Galatea has a profoundly good understanding of the human condition and I think this is best demonstrated in her video about Femininity in Fiction, in which she breaks down the far-Left's disdain for femininity, citing that women are considered "empowered" in fiction if they embody male traits.

Just to clarify, I'm not referring to classical or moderate liberals--the statement above is only about the extreme far-Left, not moderates or left-leaning liberals who have a shred of sanity. Most normal people who aren't on either extreme of a political or ideological spectrum can agree there's a wild hypocrisy in claiming that female characters can only be "strong" if they're bland, unlikable, testosterone-fueled "badasses" who effortlessly take everyone down without struggle. (Captain Marvel COUGH COUGH.)

I didn't realize it at the time, but Galatea's breakthrough in understanding the dynamic appeal of actual femininity is likely what sowed the seeds that would lead to my dedication in writing my current manuscript Enid, because I wanted to try my hand at writing a female heroine who wasn't actually strong, who couldn't effortlessly beat up 10 grown men, and who wasn't a bland teenage girl with a 1,000-year-old love interest. It was also inspired by Dark Souls because I wanted the story to be an allegory for suffering out of love, so the female protagonist of Enid isn't a Strong Female Character™ in the traditional sense of the word, but she's strong because of how much she would sacrifice to do what's right, even if she can't open a jar by herself.

Now, unlike the tortured mind of Jordan Peterson, I don't know much about Galatea off-screen so I couldn't tell you what her flaws were, but I'm sure she's far from perfect in the same way JP is. Just two people who contributed a little bit of good to the world with ideas and words, and probably fall apart sometimes behind the scenes.

In short, Jordan Peterson and Galatea are just ordinary human beings, and my admiration for them stems from a developed skill, or skills, that they possess--intellectual curiosity, and an affinity for words.

It's important to note that this is not "small words bad, big words good," it's much more nuanced than that. The quantity of words is important to a language too.

This is most apparent with tone. For example, the words "scream" and "holler" both technically convey the same thing--a person raising their voice--but they have two completely different interpretations.

If a person was in actual pain and danger, or if they were absolutely livid, you would use a word like "yell" or "scream," and if someone raised their voice playfully you would use a word like "shout" or "holler."

Generally, it's better to have more words than fewer because each iteration of a "word" has its own spin on things. This doesn't mean we should have a million-bazillion synonyms for every word in existence, but having a handful to choose from is leagues better than just having one. Just now while writing this I had to acknowledge the difference in usage between "fewer" and "less."

On paper they seem to imply the same thing--and that is the lower, limited supply of something--but they don't. "Less" refers to things that cannot be quantified while "fewer" refers to things that can.

You wouldn't say "fewer milk," you'd say "less milk." If you were to give it a quantity, such as "gallons," now you can have "more" or "fewer" gallons of milk. "Fewer" means not as many, while "less" means not as much. To know whether you should use less or fewer, you'd have to ask yourself if the object can be quantified as "many" or only "much."

I wouldn't say "How many milk do you want?", I'd say "How much milk do you want?"

Of course if I gave it a metric I could change it to "many," such as, "How many glasses of milk do you want?"

So just there we have a complex example of two words that mean the "same" thing but actually don't because of the abstract mathematical concepts they come in tandem with.

Sure, you could always just tack an adverb onto the end of everything, but where's the fun of that? The exchange of ideas shouldn't be limited to a list of adverbs. "He raised his voice angrily," "he raised his voice playfully," none of that. That makes for bad writing as well as bad communication in the real world. There's no nuance or subtlety to that.

However, over the course of the last several decades, we've gotten closer to just that.

But how could I even know that for sure? There likely aren't going to be a whole lot of studies on this extremely specific and obscure topic, so any evidence I have is purely anecdotal--and I won't shy away from the fact that it's largely anecdotal. However, thanks in large part to the advent of the Internet, it's become easier than ever to be exposed to the ill-informed and poorly-formulated opinions of millions of people, making it pretty easy for the average media user to see how people talk.

You could argue that people talk differently online than they do in person, but this argument is nullified by video, since there's a functionally infinite number of YouTube videos where people talk in real-time, as well as footage of things that happen in public, and just from video alone it's not hard to see where the shift is.

But there are some important numbers that prove this main point; for example, writing test scores in public schools.

As of 2017 (but I can assure you it's only gotten worse, not better since then), 14% of American adults were completely illiterate. This could possibly be--not the result of regular Americans not knowing how to read or write--but the result of illegal immigration; maybe they can't read or write in English, but can read and write in Spanish. So this number might actually be a lot lower if we're talking about total illiteracy and not just English illiteracy. That being said, I have a hard time believing that all 32 million illiterate adults in America are Mexicans. Just by virtue of probability alone a chunk of them have to be regular Americans who have English as their primary language. Oddly enough I've actually met immigrants--not strictly speaking, Mexicans exclusively--but immigrants from all over the world who speak more fluent English than some American adults. How badly must our education have failed us in order for some foreigners to have been taught American English better than our own country? [Although I do acknowledge that the differences between British English (English English?) are minimal at best, so really a foreigner learning English through a British lens would make little difference.]

21% of adults read below a 5th grade level; I have literally no doubts or asterisks about this one whatsoever. I personally know tons of adults who can't communicate above a 5th grade level here in California, and in some southern states it's even worse. Hell, one of my parents is embarrassing to be around because he talks like a toddler. (He doesn't much like me anyway so I'm not particularly worried about soiling his Good Name  or anything.)

Some other fun statistics include:

19% of high school students not being able to read, 85% of juvenile criminals being illiterate, and 70% of inmates not being able to read above a 4th grade level.

There's this interesting correlation between illiteracy and crime, and it's honestly hard to tell which one is the cause of the other, although it's possible that it's a positive feedback loop and that they both simultaneously expedite the other.

The 2007 movie Freedom Writers explores this idea quite well, by using English class as a backdrop for helping students in a ghetto neighborhood get through gang violence and teaching them to love learning through writing and reading. It's worth a watch if you haven't seen it already.

Now, before I go on any further, there is one thing that I have to clarify: while I argue that an understanding of the English language is vital to being able to formulate ideas, not everyone who uses "big words" is smart, not by any stretch of the imagination. The Internet has no shortage of pseudo-intellectuals who will hide their shitty arguments behind thesaurus abuse. "Big words" =/= smart.

There is a huge difference between someone using the best possible words at their disposal to communicate ideas effectively and someone throwing out as many syllables as possible to try to look smart. That's just obtuse.

At this point in the essay I've already failed to explain one of the major points that needs to be made, and that's the title of this post. When I say obfuscation I don't just mean the general decline of English as a whole. More specifically, I'm referring to its massacre. I specifically use the word "obfuscate" because that implies something that was something was initially clear, and either by force or by nature it became muddled, hazy--vague.

(I just realized using a word as obscure as that one right after inserting that Plankton meme totally makes me look like a pretentious hypocritical prick, but let's just blissfully ignore that. It wasn't intentional, I promise.)

We're at a point in time where the English language is being culled so hard that it's hard for anyone to really communicate ideas effectively, and this is an epidemic that permeates all of our interactions. (Not anyone, per se, but anyone who had to rely on the American education system as their only primary teacher.)

Not sure if this opinion is considered cultural or political or whatever, but I really hate weed. Maybe that makes me an uptight loser or something, but every single friend of mine in high school who started using weed regularly started talking much slower, began speaking almost exclusively in filler words, and became paranoid about really stupid and inconsequential shit. This isn't something that a lot of people talk about when debating the pros and cons of weed, but it's common knowledge that it makes you paranoid, and if you don't believe me, I kid you not, there are dozens of highly viewed YouTube video tutorials teaching pot smokers how to banish their paranoia because of how common it is. That's why so many potheads are also conspiracy theorists.

But all mentions of pot-induced paranoia aside, the thing that bothers me most is how much it slows their ability to link words and thoughts. And just cognitive ability in general.

Impressionable millennials already have enough working against them as it is, what with the atrocity against humanity that is common core being the cornerstone of their education and cheap lazy entertainment being the go-to, we don't need them all getting high on a routine basis too. Although maybe that's why it's called "high" school.

Moving on, my hypothesis about words acting as handles for abstract ideas becomes most obvious when trying to learn a new language. Since other cultures value ideas, concepts and philosophies that yours might not, the fact that they have words to describe those concepts highlights their relevance in the culture they come from.

For example in Japan there’s a word Ikemen, which refers to a very specific type of guy, one who is slender, well-dressed, soft-spoken, and financially successful. In the English language to describe that type of person in conversation, the closest we could really get is something along the lines of, “Tall, dark, and handsome businessman,” which is essentially what the word means, but in Japan they have a word that means that exact description. We don’t have a word for that because, simply put, we don’t need there to be a word for it.

Yet because that’s considered the “ideal” type of guy in Japan, it makes sense that they have a word for it there.

The US and other western English-speaking countries aren’t immune from this phenomenon either, of course. For example, the United States is one of the most spread countries in the world. By “spread” I mean large and regionally diverse. Sure there are countries like Russia and Canada that are larger, but the United States has more diverse landscapes than most countries. Few if any countries have beaches, forests, mountains, snowy tundras, massive stretches of deserts, canyons, cornfields, cities, and swamps all in their borders, but America does. Just like its diverse people, the United States has very diverse locations, so it only makes sense that there would be some words to describe people from different regions.

Take a word like “Bumpkin” for example. Obviously Europeans use this word too as any country with a, well, “country” landscape would have country folk in it, but in America there are words to describe people from all sorts of places.

This isn’t something that everyone watching this will relate to, but I grew up in the mountains, so we referred to people from “down the hill,” AKA anyone who lived in the city below, as “flat-landers.” The term was slightly derogatory because it was almost exclusively used as an insult.
That's because flat-landers only come up to the mountains to fuck shit up.

Not literally of course, but that’s always what ends up happening. The only time people from off the mountain came up the mountain in large numbers was during the summertime when the city was too scorching hot for them, or in the winter time when it was snowing.

Yet none of them had any experience driving in snow, and most of them didn’t even bring chains, so my tiny mountain town would suddenly have hundreds upon hundreds of stupid flat-landers stranded on the streets and on the side of the road because none of them prepared for the snow prior to invading the mountain for its ski resorts. (Maybe I'm being a bit hyperbolic, just a teeny-tiny tad, but I don't care.)

And during the summertime they’d come up during the 4th of July and launch fireworks, which pissed off all the locals because forest fires were really common and lots of homes had been lost to forest-fires in the past. 

So whenever someone on my mountain used the term “flat-lander,” they weren’t merely referring to someone who lived on flat ground. They were referring to a specific type of person, to the type of person who grows up in the city below, has 7 kids, and drives up the mountain with all their family and friends to get stuck in the snow or start a forest fire during the summer. That’s the specific imagery attached to that word, and most words have an image or connotation of their own that they carry.

It's part of the reason why I can't stand pointlessly ambiguous words like "vibe." That stupid word could mean anything.

Relaxing with a friend? Vibin'.
Listening to music? Vibin'.
Playing an instrument? Vibin'.
Eating food? Vibin'.
Watching The Office? Vibin'.
Relaxing alone? Vibin'.
Two people feeling horny? Vibin'.

Anytime someone does something you approve of it could be called "good vibes" and anytime someone does something you don't it's "bad vibes."

Alright, fine, you caught me using Hinge, but it was worth it for this screenshot. I regret nothing.

I hope this goes without saying, please don’t misquote me and label me as one of those “le wrong generation” types. I’m not one of those hipsters that thinks the past was the “glory days” and that everything else stinks now, I’m just making commentary on one thing that’s gotten worse over the years, but I can name several things that have improved.

I’ve also been noticing a rise in filler words. I mean, people have used “Like” and “Um” in the past of course, although discourse in general seems to be becoming more filler and less substance. And personally I have nothing against those words, in fact I struggle to articulate myself verbally so I sometimes need to pause or use filler between concepts. That’s why I enjoy writing so much, because it enables me to communicate effectively in a way that allows me to trim, edit, or re-phrase anything into what I want it to be. With verbal communication what’s said is said, but when writing something like a script, blog post, or novel, you can alter the words on the page as much as your heart desires until it resembles something you approve of.

So perhaps I’m being a little too harsh when I leverage the increasing use of filler words against humanity as evidence that we’ve fallen from verbal grace, but at the very least I think it’s evidence of one thing; I think that the reason why filler words are used more often is because it’s become harder for people to find the right words to match the concept in their heads.

Don’t get me wrong, this essay isn’t meant to degrade all millennials or say that they’re all stupid for saying “um” or “like” repeatedly in a sentence, rather it’s to serve as evidence that it doesn’t matter how smart you are if you have no words to express your thoughts.

I want to be careful here because that seems like a contradiction, but I can elaborate on it a bit. "But Dylan, didn't you just say that literacy is a prerequisite for intelligence?" Sorta. I think it's important to differentiate between "smart," "clever," "intelligent" and "wise." In many ways these words are synonyms, but the smallest differences in their respective definitions makes a massive impact. For example, the word "clever" really just refers to surface-level thinking skills. If someone had good problem-solving skills, they would be clever, but not all clever people are intelligent. This is also the type of intelligence that describes most "smart" animals--with the exception of emotionally intelligent animals like elephants and dolphins, most "intelligent" animals are just clever. I do not consider primates to be intelligent, because while they are smart and clever and can solve puzzles and learn skills like tool-making, they cannot grasp abstract ideas. Primates, no matter how smart they seem to be at a glance, can no more fathom the intricate inner-workings of the human condition or philosophy any more than a cat could understand the squiggles on this screen. (I stole the cat analogy from Vsauce, but who gave it to him in the first place?)

In order to communicate ideas, we need to use words as a catalyst for exchanging those ideas. It doesn’t matter how theoretically intelligent a caveman is if he doesn’t have any words to communicate with the outside world. A genius who grew up in isolation might be perceieved as stupid by the first person to find them. Let’s call it “The Tarzan Effect,” since Tarzan is a movie about that. Well, I don’t know if Tarzan is a genius or just average intelligence, but at least we know he’s not a dumbass.

Again, just to reiterate, I do not propose that we concoct for ourselves an unnecessary over-abundance of synonyms in order to diversify the English language; a hefty handful will suffice just fine.

Trying to make a word for every concept in existence is both impossible and counter-productive for society, but preserving words and phrases that were coined for a reason might be worthwhile.
Of course, there will always be words and phrases that fall in and out of fashion, and there’s no need to try to bring back dead words and phrases from the grave to try to force them back into relevance, but what we can do however is try to express ourselves with the best words at our disposal.

The ability to speak doesn’t make someone intelligent, but I do believe that the ability to communicate clearly and effectively is one of the many facets of intelligence. However, if there’s no words at our disposal to describe thoughts, ideas, and concepts, then how can we communicate effectively?
Our choices have narrowed drastically. Whereas in relatively recent history the common man was able to communicate efficiently, it’s become increasingly difficult the closer we’ve gotten to today.
I don’t think school is helping either. Forced vocabulary lessons simply aren’t the answer. The only answer is getting people to care about the English language; if people don’t care about the English language, they aren’t going to care about the implications of our ability to communicate with it.
One reason I particularly don’t like school and dislike college even more is the mere fact that everything is so tightly regulated. The things I was taught both in highschool and college felt generic and mass-produced, and even though I’ve always been a huge English nerd, I loathed English class the most.
More often than not it felt like English classes were designed to make me hate essays and books instead of appreciating them. And I find that ironic since I’m currently writing an essay for fun as we speak, which you are reading. So despite public education’s best efforts to make me despise the English language, I’ve found appreciation in the field anyway, thanks primarily to YouTube. (I'm pretty sure I said this same thing in my "Essays" post, but I'm too lazy to check. I'm allowed to plagiarize myself, right?)
Most of the words I’ve added to my verbal arsenal over the years weren’t ripped from some vocab quiz I was forced to learn in the 10th grade. Most of the words I’ve learned and started using were picked up from a book I liked, or a video essay I watched, or a podcast I listened to. Maybe a blog post here and there.
Does that mean that all vocab quizzes are essentially useless?
Pretty much.
Sure, it is theoretically possible that one or two words I use today I learned in a vocab quiz, but anytime I think of a word that isn’t popular in everyone’s vocabulary already, I can usually remember where I learned that word.

For example, I remember picking up the word “popkin” from the Dark Tower series, which is gunslinger slang for “sandwich.” I’ve been using that stupid word for years. One word that I like using in philosophy is the word “Sonder,” which I learned from a Vsauce video. I learned the word “Deftly” from a song by Cake. In fact I’d say listening to any Cake album will improve your vocabulary more than any vocab quiz ever could. Some Professor Elemental albums would also suffice.

That does lead to an interesting point though, which is that music is a great way to learn new words and phrases. The nature of music is that we listen to songs repeatedly over the course of years, so someone who grew up listening to Cake and Professor Elemental would probably subconsciously absorb a lot of the words and phrases that they use in their songs and use them in their own speech.

Obviously I can’t trace back literally every word I use to a source, but usually when the usage of a word makes enough of an impression on me for me to then try to remember it and incorporate it into my own speech, it’s hard to forget the source material. If it hadn’t made a profound impression on me then I wouldn’t have remembered the word in the first place.

[In fact, in this very essay, I used the phrases "fiercely intelligent" and "avatar of--" when talking about Jordan Peterson and Galatea, and it just so happens I picked up the phrase "fiercely intelligent" from Galatea (I think it was her Harry Potter video?) and the use of the word "avatar" as a representative feature from a Jordan Peterson lecture. I'm kind of adding this in spontaneously, but I think I subconsciously used those phrases specifically when I was talking about them at the beginning of the post because in the back of my head I associated those phrases with those two. Okay, I'll shut up now.]

That’s part of the reason why vocabulary quizzes do more harm than good. Not only are they not an effective tool for teaching impressionable young students new words, but the arbitrary act of memorizing a list of words and connecting a line to their definitions only serves to make the student loathe vocabulary and associate it with a chore, something western education excels at.

If students were able to learn about vocabulary organically by observing someone they admire speak brilliantly, it would make a much more positive impact on how they view not only words but the English language as a whole.

I remember taking a public speaking class in college and just being stunned with admiration by the professor’s ability to speak. I don’t just mean to say that he didn’t have stage fright and was able to speak coherently, but he was a wordsmith by every definition of the word, stringing together ideas and sentences in a way that made understanding incredibly complex and abstract concepts simple.

That was also one of the only college courses I actually enjoyed; because I learned and was inspired while I was there.

They’re a dying breed, but I can think of a few public speakers on the Internet who can accomplish the same thing. And as rare as they are, I’m sure most of you watching this can probably conjure up a very specific person in your mind who fits that description.

Link to his channel: YouTube
I remember watching Quinn Curio’s video on criticism in the animation community and having that same sense of awe (just stay away from her Twitter, like many other people I admire seeing their social media kills the image I had of them. Like a boppin' song with a terrible music video, once you see the awful music video it almost taints the song for you because you'll always think of that music video when the song comes on). Every now and then I find YouTube essay-ists whose ability to communicate ideas verbally exceeds my own, and all I can do is lift my jaw off the floor and start taking notes to hopefully absorb some of their communication wisdom. He might not use a lot of flare or quote-on-quote “big words,” but I remember having similar thoughts about the Act Man when watching his 50-minute analysis of Dark Souls. I ended up buying, playing, and writing a lengthy blog post about Dark Souls purely because his impassioned speech about the game got me emotionally invested in the IP. None of that interest I generated in the game would have come to fruition if it weren't for the Act Man's excellent persuasive speaking skills and his grasp on the fundamental ideas that made Dark Souls a masterpiece. I owe my entire adoration for the wonderfully-built world of Lordran to this brilliant man because of his video essay.

Not very many people have that power, and as lame of a super power as it may be, it’s an admirable one worth wielding. 

As a writer, if I was offered the choice of a power from some omnipotent genie with malicious intent, I’d choose word-smith powers in a heartbeat. I’m not sure what the comical and unfortunate twist would be, but genie’s are creative, so I’m sure he’d be able to think of something. Maybe my knowledge of words is greatly enhanced but my fingers and tongue fall out. That’d be a good twist.

That or the ability to rotate my head 180 degrees around like an owl, since the Sea Rabbit got me thinking about all the mischievous potential of that one. If you’d choose invisibility that’s a great answer too, but if you'd choose something stupid like flying then you’re just a dumb poopy-head and your opinion is wrong.

After all, any opinion I hold is objectively correct.

Now, I can already hear some of the criticisms ringing in my ears from the distance--to make one thing clear, I’m not suggesting some sort of education reform where common core does away with vocab quizzes and instead makes listening to Cake mandatory (even if that class sounds like a blast). I’m not claiming to have the solution, all I’m doing is pointing out that school doesn’t do a very good job of making young students like English, and for a solution to that we should look to someone who’s more knowledgeable about the subject than I am.

At the risk of sounding like one of those old DirecTV commercials with the slippery-slope fallacies, I worry that one day we’ll be reduced to communicating exclusively via grunts and gentle head motions. Like the zombies in Warm Bodies.

(This is where things start to get political, at least mildly, so just a heads-up)

One day we start using more filler words, the next we’re using the words “vibes” and “bodacious” to describe everything, and the next we just grunt and nod approvingly. Where does the barbarity end??

All jokes aside I do think language is important. Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is words and phrases losing their impact through misuse and abuse. Take for example how everything is compared to Hitler. Why does everything have to be compared to Hitler? Aren’t there other historically bad things that things we dislike can be compared to? We need to get more creative, I want to see more people using straw-man arguments and brainless slurs to label their ideological opponents Harvey Weinsteins and Piers Morgans. There’s a whole lot of people and things to choose from besides Hitler, you know.
Nevermind that the type of person to mindlessly call every "evil republican" Hitler doesn't know a damn thing about fascism, but that's neither here nor there.

There’s even an Internet law called “Godwin’s Law” which states, “The larger an Internet forum or thread becomes, the higher the probability of someone randomly comparing someone else to Hitler or the Nazis.”

Kinda sad that we’ve reached this point but I don’t think I need any examples to demonstrate how common that is. Although the most egregious sin isn’t the missed opportunities for more clever insults, but the fact that comparing everything we disagree with to Hitler completely waters down the significance of that comparison until it means fuck-all.

We see this all the time with insults especially. Once upon a time there used to be insults that were saved for only the worst of the worst, and were rarely used because of how sacred and exclusive the usage of those words were.

But then somewhere along the line we discovered power levels, and realized that we can just jump straight to toxic insult level 9001 instead of gradually working up the ladder. So now everyone is Hitler.

And, of course, anyone's who read my blog before knows where I'm going with this...

I love this stupid meme, it's so damn versatile.
If everyone is literally Hitler, then nobody is. (Except Hitler. But that dude's dead.)

It isn't just insults, but I do think the deterioration of insults is a byproduct of the deterioration of our dialect in general.

However, while the arrival of the Internet and social media is one of the main culprits in the death of the English language, it's also its savior. Memes and sites like The Urban Dictionary and Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows are constantly introducing new words and ideas to millions of people and revolutionizing the way we look at language.

For those that don’t feel like watching through EmpLemon’s lengthy video of how memes determined the outcome of the 2016 election, essentially a meme can be defined as any concept that’s spread like a virus through images, sounds and video. This means that, in theory, anything can be a meme. Scribbles on a wall from a hundred million years ago can be a meme.

The only requirement for something to be a meme is that it must:
A) Convey an idea or concept
B) Do so without directly spelling it out.

Memes in nature are usually funny but some memes are meant to be more mocking or informative, like the "Epstein didn't kill himself meme" which had some funny variants, but in general was more about just making sure everyone on the planet was never allowed to forget this actual serious issue--but at the same time it was a big inside joke with the entire Internet.

This means that anything that communicates a concept without flat-out telling you can be a meme. It doesn’t mean that everything that shares concepts in a non-direct way are memes, but anything that does can be a meme.

To better explain it, a meme is essentially an inside joke but with thousands of people. It can be only 10 people or millions, but it’s usually an inside joke with one or more circles on the Internet. Although as 4chan has shown us, they don’t have to be exclusive to the Internet, and can leak into the real world or even start in the real world if enough people make it relevant.

For example, Internet Historian did a video breaking down the history of the “Pool’s Closed” joke. For the uninitiated, this gag started as people creating identical afro-tastic avatars in an old-school kids game and blocking off virtual pools.

But then in real life, they started hanging up signs with the afro-tastic mascot that simply read, “Pool’s Closed.” It’s not uncommon for a lot of this stuff to leak in the real world, and likewise a lot of memes on the Internet can have their roots traced back to real-world events.

So what does that have to do with any of this?

To put it simply, memes can teach us a thing or two about the unbridled spread of abstract ideas. Nothing can quite propel the spread of an idea or concept faster or more effectively than a meme can. And the impressive thing is that memes usually have an extremely specific concept imbued into them that remains relevant for as long as the meme does.

Sure there are some vague and abstract memes like “E” and the moth attracted to the lamps, but for the most part the vast majority of memes have an oddly specific joke or punchline. They’re often so specific that they can only stay relevant for a short time period, because the idea that the meme revolves around is so specific that it can only remain both funny and relevant for so long. That’s why most memes only last a few weeks, but there are some that have stood the test of time by somehow remaining relevant years after their conception.
Then there’s the new words and phrases coined because of meme culture. The entirety of the Urban Dictionary only exists because of Internet culture. Words like:
Chad, soyboi, doomer, honkler, boomer, thot, simp, and countless others exist only as a direct consequence of the memes they originated from. And while these words are not immune to misuse and abuse, they have for the most part retained their original meanings and are usually used in their specific context. Each of these words has a concrete and very specific definition.
A person can not be called a doomer if they are not extremely pessimistic and nihilistic.
A person can not be called a boomer if they don’t drink Bud Light and make out-of-touch complaints about the youth.
I mean they can, but they'd be using it wrong.
I see a lot of people bringing up the stagnation of technological innovation but I think the stagnation of written and verbal communication is much more obvious.
I wonder if they’re somehow linked, where the same underlying causes of innovation slowing to a crawl are behind the de-evolution of our language.
To illustrate what these inside jokes look like, allow me to show the evolution of one meme as an example; this is a pretty average and typical progression and this is how most memes evolve over time.
The "E" meme began with this photo, where someone photoshopped the YouTuber Markiplier's face onto the body of Lord Farquaad from Shrek.

Around this time period, the "explaining" memes were gaining traction, which was a format for reaction images that shows one person trying to explain something to someone else, and so this led to the version of Farquaaplier where he's explaining math.

Then people made memes where he successfully SOLVES the math problems, and one of the problems wasn't actually a problem but was a formula for the mathematical constant "E," so then in response to Farquaaplier presenting the constant, the image where he finally comes to the conclusion became known only as "E." (Although some sources say that E actually came first, as a reult of Markiplier saying E in a funny voice, and then the math variant came next, although I am unable to either confirm or deny this.)

Then many variants of this meme spawned, giving us things like:


Out of context, nobody would know what the hell this picture was supposed to mean or why anyone would find it funny, but that's what makes memes funny--you have to be in the know in order to derive any enjoyment out of them.

Then there were variants that were combinations of other memes; it's common for two or more meme formats to combine into one cluster-fuck that only the biggest dorks on the Internet can understand.

Like this one, which is a reference to the old SpongeBob episodes where Mermaid Man would screech "Evilllllll!" at the top of his lungs, but now it's just his hair and nose photoshopped onto Lord Farquaaplier. No regular or sane person would know what to make of this picture out of context because they don't spend all day looking at memes on the Internet (oops).

There's also plenty of memes revolving around The Bee Movie, namely copy-and-pasting the entire movie script into random comment sections, and also the "You Like Jazz?" meme and the breaking neck meme.

So when you combine E memes with Bee Movie memes you get something like this abomination:

I could go on, but I think I've subjected you to enough.

I wouldn’t dare quote any part of this film as my example, but anyone who’s seen Idiocracy can probably see how, at the very least, the way we talk and think is getting closer to that movie than the creators likely intended. If nothing else, CHAZ's garden came strikingly close to the Gatorade scene.

Anyway, while I mentioned earlier that genuinely intelligent people have fewer opportunities to communicate effectively with fewer words, I also believe to some extent that the deterioration of English as a language makes people less intelligent in the first place.

This is because words act as a vessel to deliver thoughts and ideas, but when our dialect has been castrated and limited exclusively to words like “vibe,” we don’t know what anything really means any more.

Definitions become blurred and incoherent, and things with meaning lost whatever meaning they were initially imbued with.

It’s completely understandable and expected for the meaning of words to change over time, but it’s one thing for a word’s meaning to change and another for it to lose any and all meaning completely.

There’s a difference between a word like “boomer” changing from exclusively baby-boomers to people with “boomer-esque” traits and a word like vibe becoming an amorphous all-encompassing term. (Same with the word "political", apparently, and feel free to read over my Art is Not Inherently Political post for more details on that.)

Just to make something clear I didn’t just make this to bemoan about how much I hate the word “vibe,” I just think it’s a good example of words with no real distinct meaning. If it was some other trendy word instead of “vibe” I’d be complaining about that one, I just like to bitch.

There isn’t a whole lot of research about this topic, but I think we can come to some accurate conclusions using deductive reasoning.

One thing we know for certain is that the most critical point of learning in a person’s entire life is when their brain is developing as a baby. So doesn’t it then follow that if a baby is exposed to fewer ideas verbally, they will understand fewer abstract concepts?

Me forcing my future babies to listen to "Plin plin plon."

Despite common core’s best efforts, there are some concepts and ideas that simply cannot be taught in a school. Many of these ideas are things that can only be learned as a baby. Imagine if there was a baby who was in a coma until they were a teen. Sure, it might be technically possible to teach them how to walk as a grown teen, but the effectiveness of a walking-course or physical therapy would be nowhere near as effective as a baby learning to walk simply by observing it.

As a baby we’re naturally predisposed to learning, observing, and absorbing as much vital information as possible. If no one around us is using words that communicate specific ideas, then those specific ideas would be completely lost on us growing up.

Personally I think this has already happened with history; sometimes I’m shocked by how little people know about history. And I’m not claiming to be an expert or anything like that, I only consider my knowledge about history to be adequate, not extraordinary, but it’s starting to seem like most college students don’t understand any historical context whatsoever.

I only took a few history courses in college, but in that short time period I’ve encountered people who thought WWII happened in the 70s, people who thought South America was in Europe, and people who thought South Korea was a dictatorship like North Korea.

How can someone understand the historical and political implications of current events with that context? They’ve essentially flushed historical truth and context down the toilet and replaced it with fan fiction, this attitude of “History is whatever I want to think happened!”

Remember that time a few years ago when the enlightened students at UC Berkeley torched their whole school and rioted in the streets to prevent conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos from coming to speak during Free Speech Week?

Oh... the irony.

And of course, I don’t want this essay to just be me lamenting the current state of higher education (although I’ll probably do a post about that later), yet I see English following in History’s footsteps.

One thing I have noticed however is that most college students are at least good at math and science. And that raises some really interesting questions.

How can there be such a massive disparity between most students’ understanding of Mathematics and their understanding of History?

Now before I continue any further I need to address the masses, obviously I don’t have any concrete statistical proof that college students understand math more than history or English, and I acknowledge that most of my observations are anecdotal, however I’m willing to bet that the majority of the people watching this who are currently enrolled in a college or have recently graduated can relate to what I’m saying. At the very least the Internet has helped expedite the process of discovering which subjects are the most and least understood, and from my experience it seems like college students all across the country know basic math but don’t have a firm grasp on history or English.

While I have spent a lot of time bitching about common-core things that shouldn’t be mandatory education, I actually think making public speaking a requirement is healthy because I’ve personally seen how it can teach students to communicate confidently and effectively. It’s not designed just to help people get over their fear of public speaking, it helps solidify concepts through words that the student may not have been exposed to before, and I know I’m not alone on this.

Anyway, back to what I was saying, I believe that the reason math and science are more widely understood than history and English is because those two things have something in common that the others don’t; they aren’t subjective.

Now there are some subjective concepts in science, but for the most part everything taught in math and science is very straight-forward with little to no deviation. However, understanding History and English is similar to understanding poetry or philosophy.

With history it’s interesting because it shouldn’t be subjective. Whatever happened is what happened, we don’t live in a multi-dimensional sci-fi world where alternate histories have happened. (To my knowledge....)

History should, if nothing else, just be a list of dates and events, like a backwards calendar. On this day X happened, on this day Y happened, et cetera.

But of course that’s not what history classes are about, and thank God they aren’t because that sounds incredibly dull.

Instead, they’re about understanding the context and cause and effect of certain events. The goal of any history class is to teach the students not just what happened, but why and how it happened.

In math, 4+3 will always = 7, but whether or not the Fault in Our Stars was a good book or whether the Haitian Rebellion was justified will always be up to subjective opinion.

Yet because an understanding of historical context is subjective, students who don’t have critical thinking skills or a grasp on abstract ideas won’t be able to connect with what’s being taught. And this goes hand in hand with English.

You see, an understanding of English and the communication of ideas is an integral part of understanding history, and an understanding of historical context lends better understanding to English.

The two subjects complement each other beautifully. Without one the other suffers, and right now they’re both kind of tanking.

I couldn’t tell you with complete confidence which field of knowledge started the vicious cycle, but if I had to take a guess I’d say it was most likely history. As much as I’d like to blame the deterioration of English entirely on the advent of the Interwebs, in reality I think it was an understanding of history deteriorating first that led to English being the next runner up. The Internet has only made the process more expedient.

There’s a lot of reasons why I think this is the case, but you've already been reading this for much too long so I'll cut to the chase. To summarize, I think it has to do with hippie students in the 60s and 70s becoming the hippie professors today who teach subjective history their way, essentially seeing history through a sort of hippie-lens and imparting their own subjective opinions and values unto their students.

But that’s just my dubious hypothesis and there’s a lot of factors involved, so I can’t claim that that’s the sole or only reason by any means.

Berkeley students when asked why they rioted to stop a speaker they dislike during Free Speech Week:
In summary I think we need a deeper appreciation for our words and how we communicate if we’re ever to get ourselves out of this mess, luckily the Internet has made some admirable strides in fighting back against verbal complacency by inventing new and original terms and phrases that represent specific ideas, but there’s only so much that can do and eventually that won’t be enough to keep the language completely alive.

I don’t think English as a language will actually be going away anytime soon, I’m sure that as long as there are humans on Earth there will be people speaking English, but I fear that a lack of exposure to concepts as a baby will lead to dumber kids, which in turn will lead to less effective communication and even dumber grandkids.

It’s a bit difficult to explain, but I do hold my clumsy tongue responsible and rest assured I will do everything in my power to remedy this and hopefully have a firm enough grasp on my next topic to not need to ramble so much. If anything my rambliness might serve as evidence that I myself have not been immune from this deterioration and that it’s hard for me to explain things simply purely because I don’t have the right words to accurately describe my thoughts easily.

Anyway, thank you for tuning into my long-winded rant about words n’ stuff, if you’ve made it thus far you’re either a huge nerd like me or you just really hate yourself, but either way I thank you for sticking with me.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

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