The Language of Confusion

At Jewish World Review this piece, The Language of Confusion by Rabbi Yonason Goldson can be read.  It really is, in my mind, a must read.

It never takes more than a day or two into the new school year before I hear the chant of my students’ favorite refrain: That makes no sense!

“What you mean,” I answer the first student who utters that unutterable phrase, “is that you don’t understand.”

“That’s what I said,” the student responds, predictably. “It makes no sense.”

“It makes perfect sense,” I insist, “as you will see once you understand it.”

The student doesn’t give up without a fight. “You know what I mean,” he says. “What difference does it make how I say it?”

“It makes no sense implies that, if the material we are learning does not conform to your way of thinking, then it must be wrong. I don’t understand acknowledges the possibility that the flaw in reasoning may reside in you, rather than in the material.”

He stares back at me, trying to digest this new idea. Over the course of the year, through constant repetition, most of my students will learn never to say that makes no sense. At least not in my class….

…In his essay “The Principles of Newspeak,” the appendix to his classic novel, 1984 (published 60 years ago this month), George Orwell describes how the leaders of his totalitarian future have contrived to assure their hold on power by replacing English with Newspeak, a language containing no vocabulary for concepts contrary to the platform of the state-run Party. By controlling language, the Party controls its people’s very thoughts.

Intuition suggests that language is a product of thought: if we think clearly, automatically we will speak clearly. Orwell demonstrates the opposite, that thought is a product of language.

Linguistic laziness in both syntax and vocabulary has worn smooth the sharpness of our minds. When I say that I love my wife, and I love my car, and I love ice cream, am I not indulging a subtle self-hypnosis that affirms an equation between all three, that suggests that my feelings for my wife is no more profound than my taste for Baskin Robbins and BMW? By impoverishing our words, we impoverish our thoughts as well. (emphasis mine)

I found it to be a very powerful. We are what we say. Read it all here.


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