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I used to wonder why parents and teachers and snobby kids a year ahead of me in school insisted against “ain’t.”  We used to chant to an offender, “Ain’t ain’t a word, ‘cause it ain’t in the dictionary.”  We lived in Texas, where they have their own brand of contractions and substitutions and pronunciations.  This probably resulted from the cultural blend of Mexican Spanish, rogue English, and a bit of patriotism to boot.  Some slang words were enshrined in Country Western Music, a segment of the arts arguably as qualified as Shakespeare to introduce expressions (and evidence says that Shakespeare did a lot of word-inventing).  For the most part, I imagine parents and teachers were doing a more mature version of our parroting chant: they just repeated what they’d been told was good and right.

 

As I’ve grown up, and denouncing slang has become less and less popular, I’ve formed some ideas about why it’s so bad.  What I have identified is: association, exclusion, comprehension, and preservation.

 

If you go to slang dictionaries like “Urban Dictionary” online, you will find some unsavory histories of words we use.  Prisoners and gangs will start to use a word differently than everyone in the outside world.  Maybe they’ll use it as a vivid metaphorical reference to some coarse or irreverent thing.  Or they can use it with a sort of morbid sarcasm where what is dreadful to decent people is celebrated by them.  As the usage of the word spreads (and why it may spread I’ll discuss in a following section), the original vulgarity is dulled because the new speakers don’t realize the origin.  This happens with respectable poetic quotes as well, so we shouldn’t be surprised.  It is sloppy to make the mistake whether the origin is noble or base.  However, parents don’t usually want their children to have a lot in common with criminals and gangs, so they discourage language associated with them and derived from their lifestyles.

 

Most of us have had experience with inside jokes.  A few people in the room know a story no one else does, and someone mentions it, and they all laugh while you feel left out and clueless.  Slang, especially when it starts, is like that.  People begin to use a word in a way that most people won’t recognize or understand.  They can’t go look it up in the dictionary.  There’s no history of literature by which to decipher the code in which the other individual is talking.  This could be intentionally deceptive on their part, like parents spelling words in front of their young children – or the individual using slang may be so unfamiliar with cultures outside his own that he doesn’t realize how specialized his speech is.  Slang uses words that already belong to English – words that have a meaning to most people.  It may not even be immediately apparent to either of you that misunderstanding is taking place.

 

Unlike learning a second language, where there are grammars and translation dictionaries and classes to take, picking up this exclusive language involves a sort of immersion.  You have to find out what that speaker is feeling and thinking, what experiences have built his past, to determine what he means when he uses a word that you and the rest of the world know means something he does not mean.  While I am an advocate for relationship and community, I value the ability to skip these elementary steps of familiarization to move on to benefiting each other by what you know, by being able to express feelings of approval or displeasure, the ability to share an experience side by side and know there is commonality because you can communicate it.  Language is a wonderful tool for these things, a tool being undercut by the prevalent use of slang.

 

Finally there is preservation.  This point may not carry as much weight with most people, but I believe it is important.  A conservative language is one that has access not only to the ideas in one’s own society, but also to far-distant and different cultures: geographically, socio-economically, and even over time.  Imagine if you didn’t have to learn Old English or endure the mediation of a translator to enjoy Beowulf.  What if the Bible read by the Puritans still made sense to us today?  As our language evolves, isn’t it possible that we are gradually losing the wisdom and values of the past, constantly innovating and evolving our identities and beliefs?  Aren’t our people crying out for peace, for stability, for the ability to commit to something and have it mean something?  Do we want to feel so isolated and lonely?

 

I’m not advocating that we all learn Old English now, or go back to the King’s English spoken by the colonists of the United States hundreds of years ago – though I support members of our present population studying the expressions of the past so that we can keep hold of what those ancestors have to offer us today.  I am not going to militate against poetry, or to fight new words for new inventions and discoveries.  If you use the word “nice” to mean “friendly,” I probably won’t think too much about whether you actually meant “precise” and “orderly” as a man used to mean when he used that word.  I will keep in mind that “might” has to do with strength and ability at least as much as “can” when mothers ridiculously correct their children from saying “Can I?” to “May I?”  My fascination for words and their meanings and histories will continue to hone my vocabulary, my ability to communicate with strength and economy.  And I suspect that when my children are tempted to adopt the street language of their days, I’ll join the ranks of parents past by discouraging the use of slang.

 

What will you do?

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Isn’t it strange to be curious about one’s own motives?  Almost as an outside observer I watch myself stop blogging.  And then I wonder what is going on in my life or my psyche or even in my spirit that distracts me and stifles me and prevents me from writing.  This inquiry has produced a few related theories, and though I cannot prove that they are the explanation, they are at least interesting enough realities to share with you, my few remaining readers.

First, I believe myself to be undergoing a change.  Some effects of this are conscious and others, I am proposing, subconscious.  You may understand better if I tell you about the effects.  If you have read my blog for a while, you probably realized that I more or less left the institutional church.  This was not merely a reaction to problems in an individual church, but to learning about how God designed the Church to function.  I left in hope, seeking a more organic and interactive body driven by the Spirit of God and led by the Captain of our Salvation, Jesus Christ.  The man-made programs and pre-designed roles into which traditional churches tend to insert members I have particularly rejected.  Instead, I believe in ministries of pouring into each others’ lives, dependent on “walking in the Spirit” for the words and abilities required to edify our fellow Christians.  This is considerably harder than a clearly-defined responsibility for two hours a week at a church building.  I used to be an Awana leader, one of those established and exemplified jobs in the systemized church.  I did a lot with Awana.  But a year and a half ago, I decided to quit.  I pulled out, grateful for what I had learned and the springboard it had been into a lifestyle of serving God.

Since I left those two things behind I have spent a lot of money on gas, getting to the homes and activities of my friends; and a lot of time on Facebook, keeping up with the thoughts and feelings and doings of my friends; and a fair amount of hunger on restaurant and fast food, fellowshipping over meals somewhat as prescribed in the Bible.  Sidewalk counseling is another ministry I do that is fairly open.  The times are established, but I’m not scheduled to be there (though I do sometimes promise in advance to see others on specific days).  We have speeches, but sometimes new admonitions or offers or explanations come to our lips.  There is much prayer there, and cooperation by which we are supported outwardly and spiritually.

When I began this blog, it was an overflow from mass emails I had been sending to several friends (with rare responses).  It was a chance to practice writing – something I still believe God has gifted me to do.  And in writing new ideas down, I learned new things and worked out a lot of what I believe as a twenty-something.  The hope was to find interested people who would interact with me here.  In that way, my blog was less successful than I had hoped.

The craving all along has been for profound communication – and community.  As I caught up to that desire intellectually, and my life caught up practically, a circle of friends has replaced blogging in my hopes for sharpening and encouragement.  I found an audience that speaks back to me – not on demand, but when I need to be reminded.  And they share new things that I wasn’t seeking.  Or they answer questions before I’ve spent weeks trying to answer them on my own.  In doing ministry in community and praying as a group and studying the Bible together, I’ve continued to learn (and grow in my application!).

I’m in a learning phase of life, changing and questioning and uncertain how things will work out.  A lot of what consumes my thoughts is personal, unsuited to the wall-less worldwide web.  To write down what I think with as much confidence as I used to just isn’t my mood.

Now when I get online and have something to say, I tend to say it in a personal email or on Facebook: that great responsibility of a social networking site.  It’s a way to know and be known.  That web-world invites cooperative exploration of ideas.  People can be encouraged and challenged when they didn’t go looking for it.  I can find out when a friend is sick and needs orange juice, or discouraged and needs a phone call, or tempted and needs prayer.  Though the danger is that the Facebook world lets people live outside of reality, for me it connects me to reality much more than blogging.

Sir Francis Bacon once wrote that “Acorns were good until bread was found.”  That’s my life now.

Though, I always have had a fascination with acorns…

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I started a new blog.  Every six to twelve months, that’s what I do.  A blog or another kind of website.  Join Facebook; join Etsy.  More WordPress.

This one is WordPress.  It is for as much of my notes and essays and research on Church as I can get to.  Searching this blog and all the documents on my computer didn’t need to happen more than twice.  I much prefer the organization of having them published online.

If you’re curious, check out my tree-themed, nerdy blog: ChurchMoot.  Coming soon: more posts, of course.  Links and reviews of the websites so indicated.  And occasional comments on posts for yours and my reconsideration.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A Bit of Creative Writing

The other day I had a very vivid dream, a little storyline just before I woke up.  Please don’t interpret anything.  But if you want to read its dramatization, go over to my ‘When the Pen  Flows’  unfinished story blog. 

Coral as a wedding color is a new idea for me.  Some sites call it ‘persimmon’, too.  But no one is selling the dress I dreamed. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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She used to love to catch fireflies, chasing around the yard on a summer evening.  Those were the best days, the sun up so long, and even after dark you could stay outside because it was warm, buzzing with humidity.  And she would laugh to be alive, regular brown hair bobbing as she ran, transformed by the dusk into elven innocent beauty.  What could be more fetching than a girl cupping living light between her hands? 
 
But she moved away and started growing up.  She didn’t play in the mud anymore, or hold summer bugs in her palms.  Butterflies were safe to land on a nearby flower and she would only watch.  Dandelions were enemies to uproot, not fairies to set flying on the wind.  Sitting behind a desk with a computer and a cell phone now, weeks and months went by without remembering those days of childhood glory. 
 
A few quirks remained, nothing to hint to a judging world that anything of her elven self truly remained.  As the clock displayed numbers corresponding to the month and day of her birth, she celebrated.  Her clothes demonstrated an independent taste: dark earth tones punctuated every so often by a royal blue or coral.  She always had something to say for a dessert that layered chocolate.  And mythical monsters like Bigfoot and Nessie never lost their interest. 
 
Then it happened.  Enough of her stable, grown-up life fell away; just as she was ready to take a leap into a real responsibility the freedom of childhood reentered her life.  She fled to the country, to the remnants of summer twilights under the stars.  Seeds, formerly inserted in precisely dug holes round a circumscribed flower bed, flew from her hands into the fallow ground.  Rain fell and she learned to dance, not shivering from the night breeze, but turning her face towards it. 
Had she grown out of the child she had been, or had her world trapped her in a box of expectations and limited possibilities, a prison from which she had finally escaped? 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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An interesting question came up when I was with friends the other day.  We were demonstrating unfair arguments to use when fighting.  Most people, at least the married ones, I guess, have heard the rule not to bring up old fights when you’re talking about a present conflict.  But this is even more important.  Don’t bring mothers into it. 

As if in-law relations are not already touchy enough, and as though a wife does not already feel the contrast she makes to the mother of her husband, why go and use these sainted women as part of your argument?  Example: Your mother is crazy!  You’re just like her.  Or the slightly better: Your mother is crazy; at least you aren’t as bad as her! 

Can’t you just sense the bristling tempers when you provoke an opponent by insulting their mother?  I have a sense of indignation and no one has even directed these comments at me or my mother. 

There are – you’ll learn something here, I promise – Latin phrases describing invalid arguments and logical fallacies, commonly used in debate.  Latin used to be used a lot more when the French were more popular (they introduced most of the Latin roots to English), and old books and the intelligentsia still boast the incomprehensible (literally) attribute of italicized foreign phrases and words that no one in the world uses any more.  They may have presented important concepts concisely and memorably, but not memorable enough, since I do not know them. 

One phrase still in use is ad hominem.  This is, as I understand it, when you attack the person and not their argument.  If I am speaking to a dunce and he is arguing that two plus two is four, I cannot point to him and criticize his intelligence to win the argument.  Two plus two will still be four.  Truth is not relative to the deliverer.  Anyway, the official definition for ad hominem is:  “asserting that an argument is wrong and/or the source is wrong to argue at all purely because of something discreditable/not-authoritative about the source or those sources cited by it rather than addressing the soundness of the argument itself.”  Wikipedia says so.  Now, you cannot fairly argue that simply because Wikipedia has an in-credible reputation, we must reject its definition.  Nor can you say that I am ugly, and thus it is impossible for me to correctly communicate the definition. 

The mother-attack reminded me of this fallacy, ad hominem, so I looked up at my friend, who is a genius, and, assuming he knew Latin, being a genius, asked him to alter the phrase to represent source attack mother variety.  However, he is also a computer genius, and did the highly intelligent thing: Google.  (You’ve no idea how entertained I am that all these urban-knowledge websites are occurring in this article!)  Apparently, we are not the first to desire a name for this ridiculous habit of insulting mothers in an attempt to win an argument.  Suggestions for the Latin fallacy are:

“ad mominem” codified at the (content advisory) Urban Dictionary.   

ad urmomumYou might want to read this whole article. 

 I don’t know why we use italics for foreign phrases.  Google reveals merely that it is conventional and thus stylistically correct, but nothing more.  Latin and Italics, I am interested to note, both claim Italy as their home country. 

This is mostly irrelevant, but came up as I followed my friend’s research.  What are those P’s and Q’s we’re supposed to mind?  

Didn’t you learn something? 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Recently I was thinking of several words that remind me of each other, if for no other reason than that they begin with L and are long words.  Those account for the first three members of this list.  The latter reflect extra interesting or important expressions I ran across during my composition. 

litigious – inclined to dispute or disagree, argue; desiring to make something the subject of a lawsuit

liturgical – of or pertaining to: a form of public worship, ritual; a collection of formularies for public worship; a particular arrangement of services; a particular form or type of the Eucaristic service. 

lethargic – being drowsy and dull, listless and unenergetic, or indifferent and lazy; apathetic or sluggish inactivity.

lackadaisical – without interest, vigor, or determination; listless; lethargic; lazy or indolent

literal – in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical

lambent – running or moving lightly over a surface; dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject, brilliantly playful; softly bright or radiant

latent – present but not visible, apparent, or actualized; existing as potential

Thanks to Dictionary.com for supplying the definitions. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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