Posted by: JDM..... | March 23, 2013

Neo Scrabble….

the letters on the tiles change spontaneously and at random

When I changed careers for the last time some thirty years ago, my new adventure in the working world landed me in a hospital. Not as a patient. I worked there, for the next 25 years, until I retired, but I didn’t retire from the hospital. By then, it had changed its name a couple of times and was known by some other cryptic moniker with the word “health” tucked in there somewhere so people from away wouldn’t think it was a hardware store or a nightclub or something other than a place where folks went for operations, to have babies, or to have pictures taken of their innermost secrets.

During my higher education pursuits many years ago, I studied psychology, sociology, anthropology and the like between beer parties, and I’ve never lost my fascination with what makes people tick. Fortunately, I swore off the other activities of my academic experience decades ago, which freed me up to hone my observations of human behavior to the point where wet-your-pants amusement sometimes becomes entangled with abject horror. Like pawing around under the couch cushions in hopes of discovering lost treasure, I sometimes latch on to something that would have been better left unfound. At least, by me.

For the most part, however, I find the human species to be an endless source of curiosity, if not amusement, with an occasionally macabre element to it, such as witnessing some daring youth losing a bet that he could walk down the up escalator on his lips.

The changes that come with the passage of time necessitate changes in the ways in which we perceive and talk about the world around us, of course. Thingamajig and gizmo just won’t suffice in the long run. Sometimes we change things and the way we refer to them intentionally and with purpose, but even our acts of conscious decision and motivation may arguably result from species-specific responses no more resistible than the leaning of a plant toward the sun. Who knows? Regardless of the explanation, I decided a long time ago that Sentience is probably just another word for Bonkers.

……which brings me back to the whole thing about words and language. Let’s take a peek at how we communicate and exchange ideas among ourselves.

When a person is pried out of the crumpled remains of what had but moments before been a late model sedan, shards of which have suddenly become mingled with the similarly crumpled remains of a sedan of another color, he is hauled to the nearest hospital by an ambulance. Neither the injured driver nor the medics trying to prevent his premature Transfer of Residence to the Serene Garden of Butterflies and Rest by the Sea have the time or the inclination to think in terms of the correct moniker for the critical destination, or to chew over whatever the imaginative and market-driven description of the meat wagon aboard which he will be carried there might be. The real estate where highly trained physicians and nurses put broken bodies back together, use hundred dollar Greek words for vomit and other unpleasant sidebars of life, or perform operations may indeed be hospitals, but the deep pockets that finance them require a considerable amount of earlobe nibbling in order to remain interested, so the place may have to wear his or her name as a more socially appropriate form of earlobe nibbling. Marketing plays a role as well, so through pragmatism as well as a bit of metonymy, bland Community Hospital entities nationwide have come to be rebranded to honor various Golden Geese and to convey images of pretty vistas and womb-like experiences of comfort rather than of some sterile building where blood, vomit, and other body substances are encountered and where one goes to have broken or torn stuff fixed or removed. Fluff trumps function today.

The curious changes in communication tend to parallel significant changes in aspects of our collective existence about which we want to communicate. At its core, the process of conveying an idea to another person is pretty utilitarian. Babies know that. Household pets know that. Actually, I suppose neither papooses nor pets know these things in the accepted sense of the word, but they are rather effective at accomplishing the mission anyway. The kid is hungry, so he screams until you feed him. My cat is more subtle. He leaps onto my chest while I am asleep and snags a nostril with a claw. I understand. From his landing spot somewhere over by the dresser on the other side of the room, he in turn understands what I communicate as a response. Be that as it may, he gets fed.

The language is experiencing an accelerated period of change, largely I believe, in concert with the unusually rapid turnover in technologies. It goes beyond the processes and physical objects that seem to become obsolete almost before they are named, however. Why, I wonder, is it that function is becoming secondary to the appearance of function, for example? In the case of the hospital, we know what it is but have developed a preference for calling it something else.

There are many more examples of this widespread process of multifaceted change we are currently seeing. We contribute to it as well as experience it, not always to our liking, with both the new concepts and the ways we respond to them being expressed through our somewhat parallel changes in language.

I have no idea why people have such a need for change, but we do. I would imagine the behavior has multiple sources. At this stage of the game, it’s more fun to observe it from a distance, however, rather than wade in up to one’s armpits and make a science of out of it. That would have been interesting at one time, but today I’m far more into guffaws than scowling and chewing the erasers off of pencils.

This is not a new phenomenon, by any means, nor am I particularly unique for having noticed it. I may be considered a bit odd for devoting mind time to it, but that’s another issue. Technological changes, natural disasters, and world events of a more political nature each have triggered, been accompanied by, or resulted in changes in languages, cultures, and society in general. The Norman invasion of England culminating in the conquest of 1066, the fifteenth century invention of the printing press, and the Industrial Revolution which occurred roughly from the mid eighteenth century to the mid nineteenth century were among the most notable of recent turning points in human history. It is already being suggested that time we are living in now will be remembered as the Technological Revolution, or at least the beginning of whatever new and irreversible direction humanity will head towards for the present.

These ideas may seem a bit deep, but my interest in resolving the questions goes no farther than the bottom of a bowl of popcorn, which I will casually munch from while ruminating about how the word friend became a verb in common usage, and so forth.

I come from a dimension when and where a person could start a business, hoping it would grow. Today, one simply grows a business, like tomatoes, I suppose. Do you wonder if your children will grow any of their own? A subtle change, grammatically, but demonstrates how meaning and context become reassigned.

I wonder how much longer we will doggedly hang onto the word telephone, which is about as descriptive today as it would be to call the gas pedal a buggy whip. The term has been popularly shortened to just phone, but that still suggests a device used for sound-based communication between distant locations. The present day “phone”, or “cell”, is carried around in one’s pocket, like a package of chewing gum, rather than being a five pound chunk of metal connected to the wall with a curly black wire. Furthermore, the modern “communication device”, by whatever name it is known, and there are several, also serves as a television, a movie theater, a computer, and more, doing seemingly everything but scratching your back and letting the cat out. Those innovations are scheduled for the next generation, I suppose.

And to think that my four year old grandson may grow through his boyhood and teens to emerge as a young adult laughing at the same things I am laughing at now……….not because they are new and strange, but because they are archaic and passé.


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  1. Love it…

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