Saturday, October 21, 2006

Word Magic

Words have magical power. This is true, of course, in old cultures where there is a strong oral tradition and also a strong sense of magic. Think of common sayings about “speaking ill of the dead”, and so on. The magical power of words also presents itself in contemporary societies in contemporary ways.

There exists in America what I think of as the “Blue Sky” cult. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” That’s their mantra. They tell you that all things emanate from the internal and external conversations we have, and the world is filled with those things you really have been asking for, including bad luck, poverty, and failures of every stripe. Aren’t Rich? Think about acquiring money and it will come. Aren’t happy? Think about being happy and it will come. Aren’t gettin’ any? Well concentrate on gettin’ some! These people have a DVD out called “The Secret”, and I guarantee they have never heard of the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.

There’s also a political consideration with word power, as in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arabs have a deep rooted connection with the magical power of words. The idea of “throwing the Israelis into the sea”, once said, is as good as done. It is a sincere pledge that, once uttered, need not be made physical. The Israelis, however, being wily to the ways of the Arabs, came to America with those comments and laid claim to millions of dollars in support from fearful Jews who were not so sophisticated.

So what happens when such magical powers are diluted by repetition? What happens is that physicality must follow words when words cease to be powerful. What were only words in 1975 became suicide bombs by 1995. A generation had grown up listening to those once magical words and seeing their fathers as feckless as Israel grew stronger by the week. On the other side, what was once a hollow threat that was only used to curry favor suddenly had weight and dimension. It was now something to heed. Words now resulted in bloodshed. The magic one might argue, became stronger as the utterances inevitably failed to be enough to satisfy not the speaker, but the listener.

We now have new magical words. For Toyota it’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. The words have no meaning independent of the one Toyota provides, but a certain sort of Northern California pomposity relies on them. What are your magical words? Are there any such words anymore?

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