The Laugh of the Paper Ninja

I’m not sure when it was unilaterally decided that sophistication of style was something to be ashamed of. Behold this wonderful video about language and particularly this line:

Words, it seems belong to other people, anyone who expresses themselves with originality, delight and verbal freshness is more likely to be mocked, distrusted or disliked than welcomed. The free and happy use of words appears to be considered elitist or pretentious. – Stephen Fry, in the essay Don’t Mind Your Language

Because I am a true believer in the delightful elasticity of language, of the tiny explosion that is a perfectly placed blasphemy, or the turn of an adjectival phrase. I love the impact a foul word can have, and the use of sub-clauses to fit in everything a sentence needs to say. I hate that advertising, as a whole, talks down to people (like the ad for the i8, which has some of the most dire and awful rhyming copy I have ever suffered in an ad) and that a book that relaxes in the splendour of language is deemed too literary, too highbrow. Perhaps, when people are compulsively shortening words and phrases so that they can fit in the inadequate frame of a tweet, anything that stretches one’s linguistic muscles is seen as cumbersome. Why use bae when you can use beloved? (Bae is a terrible bleat of a word.)

It is hard not to flinch at the sight of thoughtlessly mixed-up theirs and they’res, the careless scattering of apostrophes, but Stephen Fry is right that pedantry should not get in the way of enjoyment. Sometimes, I forget that.

But when I am accused of being too sophisticated in my writing, I feel I have to complain. There’s nothing wrong with using the perfect word, even if it isn’t common usage. Language is meant to elevate, and though it is often used as the tool of denigration, it still remains my most powerful form of self-expression. Because it is true that when I dance, I look like a manatee on amphetamines. When I run, I look like a knock-kneed penguin. I am, physically, a deeply unfortunate person. For all my training, I lack grace, but as I approach my thirties, I am finding that I care less about it than I used to. But in my writing, there is an agility I don’t enjoy anywhere else. Here I am capable, confident in this skill that I have been honing since I was eight years old. I may not dance, but oh my, I can write.

But when I am told to choke my language for fear of being inaccessible, then this lady doth fucking protest, and protest in adjectives, adverbs and nouns she shall. Besides, as we learned in The Laugh of the Medusa by Helene Cixous, (seriously, read the whole essay, it is spectacular):

I shall speak about women’s writing: about what it will do. Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies –for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement…And why don’t you write? Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it. I know why you haven’t written. (And why I didn’t write before the age of twenty-seven.) Because writing is at once too high, too great for you, it’s reserved for the great – that is, for “great men”; and it’s “silly.” Besides, you’ve written a little, but in secret. And it wasn’t good, because it was in secret, and because you punished yourself for writing, because you didn’t go all the way.”

And so I will keep writing in whatever voice it is I have – somewhat convoluted language peppered with colourful lashes of swearing and very strange metaphors. I know that it isn’t quite as polished as it could be, and maybe some day, whatever novel I produce will be of the quality I hope for, rather than being the self-indulgent pablum it actually is now. But write I shall, and we all must.

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