Working my way through my visual literacy reading this past week, I was unexpectedly engaged by one of the articles. I know not many people regard weekly reading as enthralling as other activities. And to be honest, I doubt Friedrich Nietzsche can compete with the humor of drunken skateboarders.
Nevertheless, I abided by the commands of the syllabus and completed my reading. This particular article outlined the discretion exercised by museums in presenting artwork, historical material, and the political and social undertones therein. Since I am a fan of both art and covert government conspiracy, this seemed like the highlight of my assignments.
After finishing The Da Vinci Code, I was intrigued by the notion of art as an instrument to convey messages concerning religious and social movements censored by the government. I was fascinated with the article’s examples until suddenly I encountered a roadblock. My skimming of the article stumbled to a halt as I encountered foreign words that I failed to understand within the context of the article – and for that matter, any context.
My time constraints and lack of motivation to seek a dictionary prompted me to continue the article. Yet, when the third word of the bunch surfaced, my word pile amounted to “exegesis,” “inculcation” and “edification,” it prompted some dictionary action. The contents of the article were clear, but I felt mystified by this vocabulary. Although some linguistic masters can navigate this BBC-esque language with ease, I am apparently not a card-carrying member of this organization.
This leaves me with the paradox of the vernacular and the modern definition of intellectual language. Surrounded by an MTV culture that propagates slang terms and informal usage, I wonder what has occurred in terms of sanctioned vocabulary and conversation choices. The standards that once reigned are now uncertain and evolving.
It appears to be a cyclic epidemic, with informal and simplified words collapsing the breadth of vocabulary. The insertion of “preface” and “utter absurdity” elicits sideways glances of confusion during conversation, leaving others wondering why you are speaking like a textbook when gossiping about interactions with guys. It seems as though there has been a social change that forbids certain words from the realm of acceptable spoken expression. Digress and include alternate expressions, and somehow you have peppered the conversation with a foreign language with obscure references and effectively isolated yourself.
This shying away from discussions of “existentialism” or “juxtaposition” has been replaced by “totally” and “fuck yeah.” Sometimes entire conversations are composed of such meaningless phrases. Self-censorship leads to a paltry vocabulary and limited topics of conversation in the hopes of securing social sanction. Yet the lack of acceptable avenues for discussion leaves us in stagnation, unable to expand our intellectual proficiency and causing a degradation of culture.
Rather than integrate expression to our fullest potential, it is more comforting to remain within the confines of this linguistic subculture.
As Nelson Mandela once observed, our shedding of these constraints allows others to follow, giving permission here for intellectual expansion and embracing our inner nerd.
Katherine Drabiak is a junior law & society and sociology major.