Monday, October 16, 2006

What are words for?

I Love a Good Word Buzz Early in the Morning

"I ask you to pronounce s-o-w, and you ask me what kind of one. If we had a sane, determinate alphabet, instead of a hospital of comminuted eunuchs, you would know whether one referred to the act of a man casting the seed over the ploughed land or whether one wished to recall the lady hog and the future ham."

Mark Twain, Speech In New York City (9 December 1907), in Mark Twain's Speeches 367 (Albert Bigelow Paine ed., 1923) (as quoted in Mark Twain: His Words, Wit, and Wisdom 7 (R. Kent Rasmussen ed., 1997)).
Is it just because I'm an editor that I love the phrase "a hospital of comminuted eunuchs"? The happiness I feel doesn't stem from a sense of pride over the size of my vocabulary; I had to look up "comminuted" too. The happiness I feel came after looking it up and discovering how clearly it conveys Twain's sentiments. Sometimes there is nothing better than a 25-cent word to demonstrate your depth of feeling on a topic.

When a 1-Cent Word Will Do
Then again, there's strength in a string of 1-cent words too, as demonstrated by the fourth place Google ranking for my post on Pickles the Fire Cat. I'm sure that the publisher is delighted that their book is now so closely tied to the Woodhull Freedom Foundation and that my insightful critique (or insomnia-driven critique, according to MetroDad) is so popular. I found this out when flipping through my site counter stats for the first time in, oh, let's just say months. I didn't get much more out of it than a good laugh over those results and confirmation that I still have six loyal readers. What can I say? I'm a word guy, not a bean counter, and while I used to look at my stats regularly, I don't anymore because it's not about numbers, it's about people. Specifically, the happiness that comes to me from writing this comes from connecting and communicating with people--you, the readers.

Define X: If 1 Picture=1,000 Words, Then 1 3B Video=X
Before introducing the latest 3B video, I have to pause to thank Lonnae O'Neal Parker, who wrote this piece in the WaPo on why she gave up on hip hop. She clearly explains my dilemma. I loved the beats. I loved the sound. I loved the rhymes.

But, these days, I can't get around how deeply the words disturb me.

There are two reasons. One is that hip hop has been a ticket to ride for so many men, so many of who are now using their elevated economic status to sneer down at women. What good is it to raise yourself up only to spit down on others who are still climbing? How great a man are you that you use your newly bought powers to put down others just as you were so recently put down? When you rise to riches, is it really your goal to become a pale reflection of those who you had to struggle against to succeed? I'm not saying that hip hop has to become a social movement, just that listening to hip hop is as attractive as watching the Vanderbilts spit on their valets.

The second reason is that being clever in hatred is easy. What's hard is writing something that's catchy, cool, and compassionate. And by compassionate, I don't mean soft. I don't mean that you can't fight the power and still be compassionate. Compassion doesn't require forsaking resistance to and force against oppression, injustice, and hatred; compassion requires the strength to resist and rise up against them--in a way that raises all of us, not just the speaker. Kindergartners write clever rhyming couplets about hating boys/girls/school/vegetables. Write something that a five-year old can't, and maybe I'll come back.

Until then, here's 3B, doing some body movin' to some hip hop that I can hang with.


  1. "Came out Rockin when I was born, is that true?

    I like the tongue the best, that's precious. And during the second verse, I'm pretty sure 3B brushes... that... dirt off his shoulders. Yeah. :)

  2. Anonymous8:40 PM

    He looks like he's itching to roll over. And at one point I think he pooped, but I'm not sure.

    I love how you have Barky as Best Boy. You're so flippin' funny:-)

  3. With that tongue he's showing the world, "I'm all about the milk, baby!"

    Thanks for the link to the dictionary, Papa B. You saved me the extra key strokes as I felt the inexorable need to know what comminuted means.