Monday, March 13, 2006

Brang & Our Wild World of Words

Preface

This entry is inspired by a comment on a previous post from MysticGypsy, who reflected on how many of us automatically assume our words are understood in the light we intended.

Words are universal, but at the same time, we individualize them. Through experience, our words take on specific associations and special significance to us. At some point in our lives, most of us have made up words as well as altered words, creating our own unique definitions, code words, secret languages among friends (imaginary or real!). Thus, a harsh word to one might sound hilarious to another, or vice versa. And all the while, we must use these words to describe our basic daily needs as well as our innermost feelings, and hope that we are understood.

Brang is a Word: It Better Be!

I brang the book home yesterday. Hey, what’s wrong with that? It sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I rang the bell and sang the song yesterday, didn’t I?

In third grade, I got in a quarrel with my teacher, Mrs. Shepherd. She held me after class and informed me that “brang” isn’t a word, but I refused to be deceived. I knew better, you see. I knew what she couldn’t possible know. My mother always used the word “brang.”

Mrs. Shepherd explained calmly at first, but I wouldn’t cave so easily. Don’t mess with my vocabulary. No, that wasn’t what I meant, was it? Don’t mess with my loyalty.

I stuck stubbornly to my side, hardening myself against all arguments, and eventually, Mrs. Shepherd lost patience with me.

Your mom is wrong.

I despised Mrs. Shepherd for a while, but I stopped saying “brang.” And I started to suspect Mom whenever she spoke at the dinner table. I wondered what other misbegotten words might be falling from her mouth. I could no longer trust her sentence structure, her clauses, her connotations, even as they whirled about me, catching me inside their net.

You don’t want to be Mom. You want to be Right.

Mrs. Shepherd wasn’t the only one who knew better than Mom. In contrast to Mom’s lower-class background of urban poverty, Dad had been raised on a middle-class farm and enjoyed an Ivy League education. Not only did my parents represent different sexes, but also disparate classes, and when I considered my options, I wanted to be Dad.

Eventually, Mom listened to vocabulary tapes and left her Brang-days behind her, but it would be years before I realized that she had some very valuable words to teach me.

For you, Mom, I brang myself home.

23 repartee:

Blogger Golgotha_Tramp wrote...

Very sweet FG.

I unfortunately was at the other end of the spectrum and would have the living snot beaten out of me for correcting people.

"I ain't got no soap"

"you mean you haven't got any soap, saying you haven't got NO soap implies you must have SOME soap"

"wha?"

PUNCH!


unfortunately I never learn and today I can still be heard correcting people. My worst is for correcting people who use a word incorrectly. But I do have my reasons, I love these people and correct them out of love. I know I would prefer that then to be laughed at for saying pacific instead of specific.

3/13/2006 11:00 AM  
Blogger Sven wrote...

Where I come from we commonly misuse the word borrow.

Will you borrow me a dollar?

My reaction was similar to yours when I was first confronted. Although I certainly don't speak perfectly, I do try to be aware of the power of words. Perhaps that is the Social Worker in me.

A few months ago I found this Podcast about words, lanugage and why we say the things we do. Check it out.

3/13/2006 12:06 PM  
Blogger simmi wrote...

That was such a sweet post. Im a sucker for nostalgia, love, and sentimental stuff.
Returning to words and their meaning, it is amazing to discover the power of language, and how our languge more often than not supports the powers that be.
Linguistics are a major part of my dissertation, which I should be working on right now. Gotta go...

3/13/2006 1:10 PM  
Blogger Cristina wrote...

At least you were born into the English language. Imagine learning about those irregular verbs! The amount of tenses we made up!

But it's fune. You customise your computer, your mobile, your clothes, your mp3 player, your... anything. So why not your language too? :)

Great post, btw.

3/13/2006 2:05 PM  
Blogger Cristina wrote...

See, I joined fun and fine in one word: fune :P

3/13/2006 2:06 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Golgotha –

Ouch! You're the Superhero for Proper Word Usage (okay, we must come up with a better title for you!).

It's excellent that you take a stand for words, and you’re definitely doing your friends a favor when you correct them, even if they don’t thank you now - ;)

Sven –

It's fascinating how some words seem to translate backwards – both in certain cultures and certain minds.

I hadn’t thought about the power of words in a therapeutic sense, but—of course! I expect you must hear, first hand, how certain words inspire, motivate, provoke or depress.

For those of you who haven't read Sven's post on “How to Be a Good Counselor,” it's very funny! Here's the link:

http://mstanefski.blogspot.com/2006/03/how-to-be-good-counselor.html

Simmi –

Ah, I'm a sucker for nostalgia, too - :)

I'm very interested in your comment that "our language more often than not supports the powers that be." So when you need a break from your dissertation, please come back and expound on this!

Cristina -

Yes! Spanish makes so much more sense than English. It has rules and actually sticks to them – wow, what a concept!

Fune! Hehe! I love it - ;)

3/13/2006 2:21 PM  
Blogger mysticgypsy wrote...

Hi Frankengirl
What a lovely post! :)
I wonder which is really worse: saying a word wrong in the same language or saying the same word in a completely different language. But then..one needs to define "language" in the first place..

Effective communication does not merely rest on words but words form such a large part of how we interact with others that we have no choice but to choose A "language" .

Languages also have the power to be cruel. Entire civilizations can be lost without them. Not to mention the peculiar language we talk in our imaginary worlds as children, which others dismiss as "gibberish". It is too bad the World of Adulthood does not seem to recognize this language, and hence it is at risk of being lost..

3/13/2006 2:25 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, MysticGypsy - :)

As you know, I’m a strong advocate of the lovely language of “Gibberish.” We must keep it alive!

When you write: we have no choice but to choose A "language", do you mean a certain class/culture?

Perhaps this relates to Simmi’s comment that most language supports the “powers that be.” We are forced to conform our language in order to gain entry into higher society. (Of course, if I’ve completely misread you, please correct me!)

Yes, language can be both kind and cruel; constructive and destructive, and it’s amazing how often we don’t recognize the power of our own words, and wave them about in an unwieldy manner.

3/13/2006 2:48 PM  
Blogger The Poodle's Friend wrote...

How sweet!
I'm not functioning at particularly high mental levels at the moment, so you must excuse my lack of serious contributions to the discussion on the power, limitations, personalizations etc. of language.
One thing about learning a language, though: is it just me or do you end up knowing a foreign language grammatically 'better' than native speakers? It sounds paradoxical, but I think it's a similar mechanism to what happened to you with 'brang'. For example, there is the subjunctive tense in Italian and Italians just don't know how to use it because it's quite hard to learn, and adults get it wrong all the time. I, on the other hand, don't speak Italian with my parents, so I end up using the subjunctive correctly because I don't hear the 'corrupt' version. And I point it out to people when they get it wrong, much like golgotha tramp.
Gosh, I do ramble.
Excellent post as usual.

3/13/2006 3:27 PM  
Blogger mysticgypsy wrote...

Hi Frankengirl
Yes, by choice I mean entering any kind of society in order to conform. More often, it is highly intimidating to be "different", so people had much rather lose a part of themselvs (and their native language) in order to assimilate with the world around them, which is why language can be both liberating but also destructive. It is more like choosing submission instead of resistance :/

3/13/2006 4:12 PM  
Blogger simmi wrote...

I am being a very bad girl. I have only half skimmed through some papers, poured my self a g&t, smoked too many cigarettes, posted a new insert (mainly a response to you and KM)...but not typed in a single word of my dissertation!

I loathe myself for my weakness to my pc, if it had been of flesh and blood I would bloody marry it...but that doesnt make sense...cause it would obviously be a woman (being based on multi-tasking and all that)...no wonder we do 'click'...click the button and instant gratification...

Well my comment is based upon how you, for example highlighted the difference in the dictionary between a pimp and a prostitute. It supoorts the patriarchal sentiments, becouse they gain from exploiting 'others' especially in terms of gender and race.

Question why the terminology of women and people of colour always has negative connotations.

Why is Black always described as 'evil, void, death, sorrow, black magic, mystic, sinister, clandestine, with out hope, gloomy, soiled, dirty, angry, resentful;she gave him black looks, unpleasant reality;pessimistic or macarbre manner, black comedy, great misfortune, wicked, harmful, a black lie, a black heart, causing dishonour and discomfort, black crime, blackout, black death'...a complete nihilistic negation of all things black...now lets compare White: 'sunlight, white clover; luck, benovelent, with out malicious intent, white magic, white lie, snow;a white christmass, purety, clean, enlightenment, royalist, milk, cream, morally unblemmished, auspicious, poetic, fair; fair maiden, blonde; fun, bread made with flour, the viscous fluid surrounding the yolk of a birds egg, white part (sclera) of the eyeball, any butterfly belonging to the 'Peirida' family, energy, honarable and generous, a clean slate, new beginning, a brides dress, untouched, angelic etc'...wow, vision, creation, enlightenment, butterflies and beauty...words can really dazzle, to the point of blinding people of the underlying powerstructeres.

I believe that I am trying to say that words taint our perception of the world before we even realize it, and that this is not a coincidence as 'the powers that be' are unfortunatly run by 'old caucasian males', who benifit from exploitation both in terms of sexism and racism.

Most of the connotations are from the 'oxford english dictionary'.

I believe it is time that we re-subvert these meanings, as in my post about the meaning of 'cunt', and its origin. Male dominance, and the whole 'penis envy' and the 'male gaze' concept is there to render women impotent of their power.
I believe that men suffer from womb envy. Which has caused all this mayhem, of war and destruction, and unfortunately they project this void, of 'envy' onto women...that is my take in a nutshell.
Excuse all my generalizations, and to all the men out there 'I love men', and have a little one my self...but I cannot accept all these false theory's, which people blindly follow, women becouse of their fear of the unknown, and men becouse they gain from having a 'wife' upholding the fort...literally, or symbolically. Either way, it is unacceptable.

3/13/2006 4:41 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

TPF –

You make a good point about learning a language from our parents vs. our teachers. As you note, we have more opportunity to pick up “corrupted” language from our parents (unless they’re professors!), but on the other hand, most people don’t speak in text-book style! So it seems to me that *you* have the best of both worlds – you are learning a second (third?!) language inside the country itself! :)

3/13/2006 6:44 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Simmi –

”I loathe myself for my weakness to my pc, if it had been of flesh and blood I would bloody marry it”

lol!

Your comment is so rich that I doubt I’ll do it justice, but here goes…

In highlighting the black/white definitions, you reminded me how one meaning alone seems benign, but a collage of meanings tells a different story. Your collage told us a story. And for some reason “white lie” stood out for me. It reminded me that “white” can even make a lie seem nice!

Personally, I tend to think of black/white as inseparable. We cannot have one without the other, and I know I would be lost without “black.” I would have no story; no pathos; no drama; no reality. I would not want to live without “black.”

“I believe that I am trying to say that words taint our perception of the world before we even realize it

Yes, you are so right! We are born into a world of accepted words and values; we are offered a “shared reality,” which may or may not be real, and we accept it, because we don’t want to be considered outside of reality or “insane.” Finding the truth is one of the most difficult challenges – exhausting, bewildering, often disillusioning and depressing, but ultimately liberating.

I agree with you that we need to “take back” words and redefine them, particularly words about ourselves. We need to ask: This is what they say I am, but is this really me? And why would they know me better than myself?!

Ah, now when it comes to generalizing about men, I find that most men with whom I associate break all and any stereotypes!!! I am in theatre, of course - :P

Thanks for your thought-provoking response!

3/13/2006 6:45 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

MysticGypsy –

Thank you for clarifying!

Yes, there are intimidating forces (as Simmi also writes about) the press us to assimilate (lose parts of ourselves, our childhood, our culture) and behave “normally.” The irony, I think, is that no one is so-called normal and so we are trying to fit ourselves into a false mold.

I tend to believe we need to adapt to our environment (but to what degree???) while retaining and nourishing our individuality. But how do we accomplish and balance this? I know you write about duplicity on your blog. The public face vs. the private face. We may show public submission but hold private resistance. Like JE! Oh, I just had to bring her into this! :D

I think Golgotha also mentioned the double-self on her blog. The one who wears the suit, the one who runs loose, and what a challenge it is to take care of the needs of both - ;)

3/13/2006 6:49 PM  
Blogger simmi wrote...

I am glad my response was thought provoking...and all this flattering is just about to make my ego pop...you are making me feel all bashful...but ofcourse I love it.

I also agree with the co-dependence, and interchangebleness, of opposites, but black also contains solace, shade, rich dark chocolate, rest, etc, as well as white containing; blinding light, emptyness, icy coldness, etc. and I believe that as humanbeings our personas are just as interchangeble. It is just easyer to control people by creating mindless stereotypical fixed roles. Identity is fluid, and in constant change, that which is stagnant is dead, and will be consumed by its own rot.

3/14/2006 12:27 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Simmi –

I’m so glad you mention the fluidity of identity and the interchangeableness of opposites! After reading your comment, I started to reflect upon all my positive associations with the word “black” – depth, intimacy, mystery, magic, gothic (and as you mention - solace, shade, rest, quiet).

I also want to note that since “black” is associated with nighttime, I suspect several connotations arise from fear of nightfall (for children as well as adults - particularly before the age of the light bulb!). And I would be remiss not to mention The White Witch of Narnia!

However, I don’t intend to negate the insightful and enlightening story you presented. Words are potent and create powerful images in our minds. They can have both a personal and political influence upon us, and the collection of meanings you originally offered create an illusion of an immense divide and seemingly impenetrable wall in which black stands on one side and white on the other. Whereas, black/white truly go hand-in-hand for me. We cannot have day without night and vice versa - :)

3/14/2006 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Holly wrote...

I've always been very fond of what Humpty Dumpty has to say on this topic:

"I don't know what you mean by glory," Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't--till I tell you. I meant, 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"

"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,'" Alice objected.

"When I use a word,"Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"the question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master----that's all."

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so afater a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. "They've a temper, some of them--particularly verbs: they're the proudest--adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs--however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!"

"Would you tell me please," said Alice, "what that means?"

"Now you talk like a reasonable child," said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pelased. "I meant by 'impenetrability' that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I supposed you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life."

"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

"When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, I always pay it extra."

"Oh!" said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

"Ah, you should se 'em could round me of a Saturday night," Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, "for to get their wages, you know."

(Alice didn't venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can't tell you.)

3/14/2006 11:04 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Ah, Holly, that’s absolutely delightful!!!

Thank you for sharing such a delicious slice of absurdity. I was feeling rather hungry for a bit of word-happy madness today, and you've brought a delectable platter to our table!

And yes, perhaps we best take a cue from Humpty Dumpty and become the master of our words, rather than the other way around - though he may push it a tad far. I’m not sure I’m ready to dole out any dough to words, though I expect many have earned it, and there are a few I’ve overused and abused, who could stake quite a claim against me! - ;)

3/14/2006 11:34 AM  
Blogger actonbell wrote...

Great post! We do emulate our parents, of course. My mother uses the "verb" tump. It means to turn over and dump. She knows this is wrong.

3/14/2006 7:48 PM  
Blogger Hale McKay wrote...

You done brang up an interesting post thar, frankengirl. Raised in rural W.Va., and brang was commonly used amongst us hill folk. I often heard flang too. (fling,flang,flung) - Hillbillies know how to conjugate a verb.

3/14/2006 9:06 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

ActonBell – “turn over and dump” ??? I’m afraid to ask! Of course, we called that “durn” in our house, hehe! :P

Hale – ‘Tis good to know the hill folk are keepin’ alive the Beauty of Brang. Just when we expect conjugating to be downright commonsensical, English likes to trip us up. Thanks for chiming in (and brining your brang with you - :)

3/15/2006 10:33 AM  
Blogger Mercy wrote...

Yay for validation of brang! LOL.

3/27/2006 12:57 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hey there, Mercy! So lovely to have you visit! - :)

3/28/2006 7:12 AM  

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