Words are all I have

A range of odd things related to words moved together today. I managed to join some friends for their regular Friday morning coffee and conversation. So eager was I to make it that I made sure to break off from trading early and head out, only to get to the restaurant before it opened at 11am :-). The first regular who arrived was, naturally, surprised to hear my little voice saying “Hello!”

But the group had lots to talk about and much else to exchange, including some books. A lot of the conversation revolved around language, spoken and written, and forms of expressing language, using writing implements such as fountain pens–a passion of mine that I found was shared by the first of the group who had greeted me this morning. He showed off a few of his pens that happened to be in his pocket and we exchanged stories about Washington DC’s famous pen store, Fahrney’s. He also told a great story about how his hand writing had to be changed to fit the education system in Uganda, where he studied as a boy.

The group celebrated a few things, including the engagement of one of its members–his first, late in life, and very exciting for that.

We also talked about sex and gender issues in language, prompted by the lady who came to our table referring to herself as our ‘server’ (which she explained is the politically correct term in the restaurant industry, not ‘waiter’ or ‘waitress’). While we may debate whether we are being served or waited upon, we have other social mores to ponder. English does not have grammatical rules that are based on assigning gender to nouns, so those who speak English have to deal with offending (though perhaps unintended) by trying to create male-female versions of nouns. French, German, and Spanish, for instance, are guided (quite strictly) by gender specifications for nouns. I need to speak to some friends who are native speakers of such languages about their views on English-speakers’ issues surrounding gender and nouns.

The group has a number of people who write and use words to influence, and it was fascinating how strands of their different skills in that area crossed. I will take a few days to try to stitch together in my mind some of the language-related points that came up, but in the mean time will put a few things out there as place holders.

“Words are important…Those who control the words control the argument.” We talked about how certain words have been captured by those who really do not believe in them, eg, ‘socialism’, and ‘government’.

“Those who succeed in the military as leaders often do not transfer those skills into other areas of work …They can bring other things and being appointed to boards allows them to bring contacts and openings for contracts.”

“Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD)”, how these are used to manipulate and attempt to control.

“What does it mean to stay on message in what you say yet stray in what you do?” Has the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives already strayed in its first week?

Finally, whatever happened to the Filofax? (For the ignorant, it has nothing to do with the ingredients of spinach pies.) Several people proudly showed off their iPad version minus 1 (the block note pad). When I said that I used a pen and notebook to write over the weekends, I was asked if that was a computer notebook and stylus. I explained that I tried to put the electronic work machine aside for much of the weekend.

Just scrambling to recall, in a somewhat disjointed way. It’s been a long day and as usual in recent times it has been a week where market movements have not failed to surprise and give a bit of shock and awe. For those who have not been watching the Euro, the word is ‘Timber!’.


About The Grasshopper

Professional international economist, recently retired from an international organization. I use blogging as a way of organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, and spent many years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for a few decades, and worked and travelled abroad extensively. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of girls. Also, married to an economist.
This entry was posted in Blogging, Human relationships, Language, Politics, Service economy, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Words are all I have

  1. wordnymph says:

    Nice post today. It left me with (at least) two thoughts. One, do you remember when we first met at Fahrneys? You and I had not yet met officially, but I recognized you from church, accosted you at the counter and introduced myself. Because I have an autobiographical memory, I might even be able to pinpoint the timeframe. Two, I like your comments that those who control the words control the argument. I think that’s what columnist Steven Pearlman was saying today, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/06/AR2011010605889.html.

    • Dennis Jones says:

      Thanks, Monica. It seems that stream of consciousness is still a good way to write :-).

      Your memory is really good. Shockingly so. I have to wonder if your interest in things Fahrney-esque will flow soon. As pens were truly one of my vices I had to make an commitment to not wander too closely to places like Fahrney’s. Impossible to do, but I buy pens for others, instead of myself. Vice turned virtue?

      Excellent piece in the Post, which I had not yet seen before I wrote.

  2. P. Clayton Huggins says:

    Very interesting and timely post. A few notes and observations: I write all of my poetry by hand, THEN I transfer it to the computer. I cannot explain why or how, but writing by hand gives a different “feel” to what I write: it “feels” more natural. The oppoesite is true for the computer. I write on the computer to archive and record what I write by hand.

    Interestingly enough I was in Basseterre earlier this week and came across a small shop which had Parker Pens for sale. I inquired about fountain pens and was reffered to another shop which sells books arts supplies etc. I asked about a fountain pen and the young man behind the coiunter asked: “what’s that”, I was more than a little surprised and after about three or four minutes of trying to explain what a fountain pen is… Anyway, the other store clarke came over and pointed to a claigraphy set and said that was a fountain pen…I then had to explain to the young man how the nib worked. He may be forgiven. I finally asked him his age: he is seventeen.

    I took visiting cousins on an outing today and the conversations turned to fountain pens, yes I know, it’s called synchronicity. He took a Parker out and we admired it.

    I myself have a Parker stainless steel set which i have had since the early eighties and the fountain pen is used, though infrequently.

    Believe it or not, I had to push my Filofax out of the way to type this note! I have a Blackberry, an iPod, BUT, The do not have compartments for cards a zippered money section, pockets for my business cards AND another for those I recieve! I cannot do without my Filofax, which after twenty three years has a very nice worn, antiqued leather look. I am looking at the RIM Tablet and I am delighted that it’s dimentions make it a perfect fit for my Filofax, I will be visiting my local leather worker to see if a “holster” can be deviced for it that will fit my Filofax.

    I enjoy reading your work.

    • Dennis Jones says:

      Clayton, a Bahamian friend was explaining to me over New Year how he writes his weekly articles by hand with a pen then transposes them onto the keyboard. Again, he felt that affected his ability to ‘feel’ the piece better. Another person in the same conversation commented how his addresses and articles are much less easy to recall when he writes them first on a computer, as opposed to hand writing them. I’m not sure if that reflects the way we were trained to write. We may need to check with the current crop of youngsters to see how their faculties react over time.

      I hope you bought some of the Parkers, for which you would have a taker. I too have Parker stories, studying not far from Bush House, where Parker once used to assemble pens, before being evicted to make more space for the BBC, but still had a showroom. It used to be a great pleasure to walk into that wonderful building for no purpose other than to get my pen fixed or get supplies. Think of image of black man walking into hallowed British institution.
      My good wife has managed to splice the technologies: using fountain pens, computers, BlackBerry, and now graduated to iPad. I know many people who might like to use the hand writing feature on an iPad. I’m interested to see if RIM can make another bridge for writers, though they have been definitely not giving signs that a writing instrument would be a feature of the ‘PlayBook’.

      It’s ironic that having promised to take my pen out for some exercise, I recall that amongst the things that cause a pen great trouble are the chemicals in ink.

      Thanks for the support.

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