This is probably not the article you were expecting. But if you’re a nerd like me, and you, too, are amazed by the power of language, I hope that this will interest you.
I should probably start off by saying that I am an English major and currently taking a class about Shakespeare. The professor is amazing, and has opened my eyes to Shakespeare in a way that other teachers simply blinded me to him. And of all I’ve learned of the Bard, the most interesting facet, to me, is his wordplay, the way he weaves puns into dialogue, throws clever insults this way and that, shapes every iambic sentence into a smart, exceedingly insightful line. Just reading Shakespeare has, I think, made me feel more at ease with language. School, often, has stifled me, made me stick to plainclothes language that my teachers understood; discouraged me from taking risks; encouraged me to write as clearly and obviously as possible. While that’s an accurate method for writing persuasive and expository essays, it is not an exercise in cleverness. It puts language at a distance: keeps you from molding it into something unique and fun and characteristic.
And yet there was a point in my life during which I did play wildly with language, and that’s when I was dating the class clown back when I was sixteen. He was a class clown, but a clever one, and our relationship was rooted in puns and stories. Crazy, right? But we both loved it; I now feel that I was perhaps much more in love with the intelligent words we traded than with the boy I traded them with.
It was (still is) the era of texting, and so before we ever even talked much in person, we messaged each other a lot. And we would have these outrageous conversations…I’d say something, and he’d make some sort of joke out of it, to which I’d respond with a pun, and then he’d take off running and we’d be creating a story without an intricate plotline but infused with complex metaphors and hilariously wild puns and crazy names.
I had so much fun with that, and I honestly think it made me smarter. We didn’t do it as much in person, for I am very linguistically-oriented, but only when words are written. I don’t think quick on my feet; social anxieties paralyze me so that no matter who I’m talking to, I always feel clumsy with my spoken words and I am far from an eloquent speaker. Writing’s my medium. But the mere act of having written, thought-provoking conversations with one another, brought to life a new kind of linguistic intelligence, the kind that sees patterns and hears echoes in words, the kind that Shakespeare thrived on. It causes you to start truly paying attention to what you read and hear; to process it and analyze it and expand it all at once. This is an incredible skill!
But most of all, it is fun. Wordplay. No one had more satisfying fun than Hal and Falstaff, who let puns fly from their tongues like spittle and embodied role play in order to inhabit more word worlds (Henry IV). School and modern language caused me to forget just how much I love and admire the amazing versatility of language. I’ve just been touching the surface of it for so long; using it but not embodying it.
But I knew it at sixteen—with my dorky boyfriend Brian whom I’ve yet to meet anyone quite like. When reflecting on the relationship, I’ve often wondered what it was that kept me with him all those nine months—because all I could remember was the relationship’s sad, drowsy ending, and an arrogant, selfish, immature dude. But it’s come back to me. I loved that dude because he was so incredibly clever and allowed me to learn and expand my mind so much, through such a simple act. That is the best way to get smarter—when it’s so natural and fun that you don’t even think of it as learning or improving.
Human language is a wonderful invention. That is one of the reasons why Shakespeare was so awesome; he mastered language and made it an extension of his mind, rather than merely using it to explain himself. I hope I can get to that point, and if I do, I’ll certainly have my ex-boyfriend to thank.