Monday, August 22, 2016

No, You Don't Understand

Have you ever thought about how weird and inadequate language can be?

This might sound weird coming from a writer, who's supposed to be able to find the right words to convey any idea or emotion. However, I think my closeness to the English language gives me a different perspective on the uses of language, in that it is REALLY HARD sometimes to truly say what you want to say with the words available.

I've been having a hard time saying "thank you" lately.

Oh, I don't mean I don't say it. I say it. I say "thank you" to the waiter who brings my food, to the crossing guard, to friends and family when they help me in some way...whenever I want to show appreciation to someone and remember my manners. I sometimes forget, but I'm trying to be a polished member of society.

No, I mean I feel like sometimes those words are woefully inadequate. How weird is it that we use the same words to show appreciation to someone who helped us out a little and to someone who helped us out a lot? Why is it that English provides me the same words for when someone steps aside to let me pass while I'm on my morning run and for when my brother physically and emotionally supports me through a very difficult race? Or to express gratitude to my parents for all they do?

Isn't it bizarre that they're the same words? As a writer, I could find a deeper form of "thank you," like, "I am deeply grateful for all you do," but too often that kind of thing comes across as sarcastic, and it doesn't really work in social contexts.

For example, if I'm about to take a test and I'm missing a #2 pencil, I am deeply grateful to the person who lends me one, especially if it's an important test and I have to take it now. I say "thank you," and the person may say something like, "No problem."

And I want to say, "NO, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. I REALLY TRULY THANK YOU TO THE BOTTOM OF MY SOUL."

I have the same problem with "I'm sorry." Why do we use the same words when we bump into someone on the bus or when we hurt or offend a close friend?

NO, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. I KNOW I HURT YOU AND I AM SO SORRY IT ACHES. DON'T SAY "IT'S OKAY" WHEN I KNOW IT'S NOT.


Also, they're the same words for when someone doesn't hear you correctly and needs a repeat, ("I'm sorry?") or when someone has lost a loved one.

I just think it's weird that the words are the same for all. It makes me want to express thanks and sorrow with actions and gifts, because if I don't, how can they understand that I don't mean the simple, casual "thank you" for a small convenience but the larger, from-the-heart one? I want to use flowers or hugs to show that I really am sorry and not just apologizing because it's a nice thing to do. It's so easy to lie about feelings when the words are the same for shallow and deep feelings.

Am I alone in this, or have you ever wished that language was better suited to expressing deeper emotions without sounding flip? Because I find it weird and sometimes frustrating, though I admit that the ambiguity can make for some interesting double-talk in stories.

Thank you for reading this post. (NO YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND THANK YOU.)

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