Like Carmen San Diego, Where Have Our Words Gone?

I had a rather interesting encounter the other day in a writer’s group that got me thinking about the direction our world is taking where language is concerned. I did not like what I saw. I had shared a blog post of mine related to book covers with the hopes that my past experiences might help someone else…some other struggling author who is wondering why sales are slow and is asking the question could the cover be the culprit?

I have a general love of words, though I would never categorize myself as a word smith or haughty when it comes to their use. I merely believe in celebrating word usage when and where I can, and so I seek to broaden my vocabulary beyond the monosyllabic guttural grunting that seems to have become the mode of communication in some circles over the last few years.

Horror of horrors, I elected to use the term ‘gander’ in my post….as in take a gander….take a look or glance. One would have thought I had used some truly archaic term, for I found myself filleted to a most discourteous and unkind level. It was a public filleting that was carried out between the group’s moderator and some yahoo, (yes I said yahoo) from a country that is supposedly known for its classical prose. He should have known better. Not that gander is particularly classical in nature, but to question whether a word is “usable” is a bit odd to me, considering the platform in which my public humiliation took place.

The gist of their criticism was that no one ever uses that word – gander- except for perhaps super old people or those who are shamefully outdated. REALLY? Both men called themselves writers, and yet they buried me for using a word that may not be common vernacular but was by no means pulled from the pool of dead languages. Are we not as writers drawn to the challenge of expanding what our general readership is exposed to – whether we are broadening their understanding of culture, language, perception, reason, imagination, or vocabulary? Since when did being a writer mean that we were limited to the bounds of what society has defined for us?

I thought my experience was bad enough, but apparently, the plague of judgmental-ism has gone well beyond what words a person chooses to employ in their personal blog posts and now enters into the realm of what they choose to read for their own private entertainment.

Today, a fellow writer introduced me to what I consider a very shocking diatribe against those “vulgar” adults who dare to find pleasure in reading any books classified as YA – either by the author’s hand or by the book seller’s. If you love to read, gird your loins before approaching this article. It is guaranteed to give you a red behind. The gist of the article is that any adult who finds pleasure in the pages of a book not categorized within their rigid age bracket should be ashamed. Flagellate yourself with a cat of nine tails ashamed. Why? Quite simply for finding pleasure in the pages of a book.

I know….I am oversimplifying the argument in the article but what can I say? Trying to re-express an absurdity is, well, absurd. Who is to say what is “age appropriate” and what is not? It wasn’t that long ago that books like Little Women and Ivanhoe were considered children’s literature, yet today, no college literature class would be considered complete without them. And let us not forget the many variations of the tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood – staples for centuries to entertain the young at heart. There are college courses dedicated to the topics, and no one bats an eye or questions whether they are considered “appropriate.”

 So what does this new article say about the world that we are living in now? Will we start slapping away the hands of young children when they dare to reach for a book that falls outside of their age bracket? Will we punish them if they breach the reading list prescribed for them by the chosen few who “know best” about what is appropriate to read at a given age and what is not? Will we sew a ruby-colored letter on the front of their clothes to brand them for all the world to see if they break the reading laws established by the Draconian few who have established these public rules of reading? It sounds extreme and bizarre and far fetched, but such tactics of censorship and separation that are encouraged by the article I mention were not so uncommon in eras that saw the likes of Hilter and Stalin. Censorship is always a precursor to tyrannical rule.

As a writer, I push the limits of reality and explore beyond what is possible or even probable within the worlds I create. I dare to dream the unimaginable. To do so means I must throw off the shackles of the restrictive constraints of this world and explore whatever my heart is drawn to. Whether it is drawn to the simple kindness in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories after a particularly hard day at work or to the darkened pages of Tolstoy is really no one’s affair. I will say, to judge someone because they choose to read one book over another is rather sad, and takes a narrow view of the world.

No, I don’t like every book, and I am not inclined to read everything that has ever been printed. It is my prerogative to reject what I abhor and embrace what speaks to my heart. I do not however need to beat another person over the head because of what they choose to read. They are reading, which is a positive sign for me – a writer -who is hoping to find an audience for my books.

In a day and age when most people’s general mode of communication has been reduced to a 140 character tweet, the very fact that there are books out there to draw the general populace into a world of broader expression gives me hope for our future as a sentient race. Truly, what is wrong with connecting with our younger selves; rejoicing in the time of our lives when the world was a simpler place? It is after all in our youth when we learn to hope and dream and seek the possibilities that the world holds for us. It is as we age that our dreams begin to diminish; our hopes begin to wither and die; and we begin to forget that the world still holds promise for us.

The article I read made me sad; not so much for the world but for the writer of the article itself. I found it interesting that as she criticized the adult world at large for their love of reading YA books, she was well versed in the genre herself, indicating she had partaken in many a title over the years. Seems rather petty to criticize in one hand and do the very thing which you find abhorrent in the other. All the same, she has only herself to answer to.

As for me, I take great pride in thumbing my nose at convention. I am a child at heart, and I take great delight in finding wonder in the very things which captivated me when I was a girl. I will cling to my sillykins with both hands, and if I become the topic of another’s derision, so be it. At least I am comfortable in my own skin. I don’t know if the critics of this world can say the same thing.

If you enjoyed this article, follow H.L. Stephens on FacebookTwitter, and Google+. If you love to read, check out her Victorian Era mystery series The Chronicles of Mister Marmee. Book 1 – The Case of Jack the Nipper and book 2 – The Case of the Wayward Fae are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book retailers online.

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