After a refreshing romp through The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, I had to ask myself why everyone doesn’t go around making up beautiful new words all the time. Then I logged onto Twitter. And I realized that maybe words aren’t as bae to some people as they are to others.
Perusing The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows made me a little uncomfortable, though. The words are pretty. I can guess at the derivation of some of them. Others have me blissfully stymied. All in all, my already ardent (yes, I am Mary Shelley and various forms of ardent or arduous basically run in my veins) love for words was augmented as expected, but I was also a little weirded out. It’s almost too easy. “Let’s make up a pretty label for some elusive melancholy and achieve the manic magic that all those introverted, vanilla Tumblr users crave.” (I’m making fun of myself for liking it, basically.) The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is creative and beautiful, but it calls into question the idea of language. Do we really need a label for those indescribable feelings? Do we need a label for describable feelings? Or even for each other, or ourselves?
I’ve heard people ask themselves how anyone thought before there was language. But if you really think about it – if you catch your thoughts when they aren’t looking, doesn’t the thought come first? The thought is like a lightning bolt of emotion or inspiration, and language is the blackened earth that proves the thought ever happened. Thoughts don’t wait until they can be articulated to connect and evolve. In my opinion, the thought precedes and the language echoes.
So treating language as a medium of thought might actually be a mistake. And this blog post will contain my last words, because that sentence ripped the meaning out of my life. But placing language so close to the inception of a thought is like calling a smoking gun a motive instead of a murder weapon.
And yet, it is undeniable that language motivates us to think, to be, to react, to evolve, to create, to put a bunch more words in this list as if to say, “Look, language!” Language is a powerful and beautiful tool, and that in itself makes it a great motivator. We like to see thoughts expressed succinctly and eloquently; we like to fall in love with the way words talk about falling in love. We like to think that we can create art simply by thinking it or by putting a pen to paper or by greeting a neighbor, and that is why language is so important. It allows us to hope for these things.
So my question isn’t how people thought before there was language. I have no question that they were able to, and it’s possible even that language has limited what we were once capable of, for the sake of its own vanity. People could probably think before there was language, but my question is: what inspired them to?
Sarah is a sophomore Psychology and Performing & Media Arts major in the College of Arts and Sciences. She likes to exist sometimes, but mostly just recite lines from The Office. Her favorite food is oatmeal raisin cookies dipped in curry sauce, and she can usually be found using the words “film” and “movie” interchangeably, highlighting her favorite words in the dictionary or trying to transcribe feral cat noises into the next groundbreaking Twitter trend. Good Taste Alone appears on Fridays this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.