Words and language in the land of heightened emotions

Awaiting publication of her second book, a friend expressed her fear that readers might ‘hate’ it. Not that they mightn’t like or agree with how she had continued the protagonist’s story (or ‘journey’, see below), but hate it

‘Buzz off – we swans hate you geese… ‘

It’s not unusual. Extremes jump easily to mind, in the land of heightened emotions — or L H E. Take the story of what were once called ‘displaced persons’ or ‘refugees’, people seeking a refuge from oppression, torture, or war. Only a few weeks ago these people were renamed ‘migrants’ and the ‘powers that be’ discussed whether it was unwise or even unnecessary to launch the lifeboats if a shaky boat crowded with them capsized in the English Channel. Then, Afghanistan: and thousands of those opposed to the new regime were under threat, and our Government promises to rescue 20,000 women and girls. The public leaps to be behind this, and its Government. We then hear some reality stories — the reluctant Foreign Secretary, the proposal to ‘keep some waiting’ so that ‘they can be more easily settled…’.

I tell this story to underline how the news orchestrates, the government vacillates, the truth is ambiguous, and the public are invited to swing back and forth. In the LHE, our emotions are constantly played upon by overexcited media.

Reacting to such constant stimuli, our way of communicating creates and uses memes and tropes to strongly convey our feelings. These tend towards the use of metaphors or similes, which, once universally recognised, can rapidly convert our messages or responses in popularised, universalised, phraseology. And as it is interesting to look at what the themes of the year — week — day — hour might be, I’ve been tempted to collect some.

Here I give you a few:

When the pandemic hit, we soon saw, heard everywhere, and used: unprecedented, these strange times, stuck at home, bored/boring, the new normal and later I can’t wait to sing again, affects my mental health, jabbed, joined them.

Already existing self-care saw increasing popularity, underlying how looking after our own selves is important to us, and took over from from the first popularised phrase, be kind.  When affects my mental health expanded — exponentially — and was usedto cover boredom, frustration and sadness about having the fun part of life taken away, this rightly annoyed and upset the community of those who had pre-existing, medically diagnosed, serious mental health issues. They argued that their condition was being trivialised by those who felt restructed and annoyed by lockdowns.

Has this all emerged due to social media use? I’m not totally convinced that social media is completely to blame, but I find it can both emotionalise and dramatise by ‘upping the feelings angle’. Haven’t you ever regretted mentioning something which gets the reply ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ when the responder hardly knew you, let alone the friend who (they assume) had passed away and had maybe even simply moved away? Or ‘I admire your honesty’, when you would be unlikely to lie about whatever the subject is—and which implies that they probably might! It’s also quite fashionable to discuss, or desire, to be authentic — isn’t it a bit worrying that so many of us (or them) seem to be admitting that they are not? And does the louder we admit to emotions (‘it made me cry’) imply we are feeling them at greater depth? Do we? 

Once a phrase has become a meme – and this underlies my attempt to bring this style of communication to our notice – a stock phrase almost becomes word – take ‘spiralling out of control’, ‘weeping uncontrollably’, or even, ‘sorry for your loss’. Words have become close partners, gathering together almost as if there’s a key to press when writing them. ‘Upping the ante’ as they go. Listen to the blithe assumption in that phrase ‘We’re not meeting in August – when everyone’s away’. It can strike at the heart of anyone (especially mothers of young children, and those who live alone) who is not imminently off on a happy holiday, but remaining where they are, without the usual standby of groups and social interaction. Both phrases demonstrate a collective thoughtlessness. The authentic and honest among us writers need to do better than to use them.

Arts page reviewers, including of books, often reach too often for powerful, award-winning, and a selection of ‘-ality’ words: physicality, musicality, spirituality, duality, and others, when more varied and descriptive adjectives might at the least vary the writing—such generalities! Don’t you agree?

To end with: it has become a meme to include a piece of serious classical music in any programme where you, the Celebrity, have chosen a selection of favourite recordings. As, for example, your choice of piece, say from Bach’s St Matthew Passion, is introduced, the phrase ‘I’m not religious but…’ must precede the recording… Are the nonbelievers afraid to be wrongly labelled? Is their secularism a guilty secret, when listening to Bach? Why apologise?

Well, life is as they say, a journey. Moving from a childhood enthusiasm for swimming, say, to representing your country in the Olympic Pool, is a journey

This blog is a kind of journey – through the way we use and fail to use language creatively and is in no way criticism of anyone falling into this. We are all potential sinners in the Land of Heightened Emotions. Mostly I admire everyone’s chatilarity on here, and am only taking an authentic, honest, and amused sideways glancing look at the dance of words and language. Whatever it takes to float our boats, may we never capsize…

One thought on “Words and language in the land of heightened emotions

  1. Pam Lazos August 29, 2021 / 1:44 pm

    Ah, Mari, if we lived in the same country, I would definitely invite you over for tea to talk about this wonderful post. First, your writer friend, who is probably just having last minute jitters. I suspect that even if everyone hated her book she would be fine because it would convey a level of emotion that may be better than the book being marginalized and ignored (not sure I conveyed that thought correctly, but hopefully you know what I mean). As for all the over-used metaphors and life circumstances that have morphed into memes, I agree that we over-dramatize mostly everything — and admittedly, being of both Greek and Italian descent, I am prone to over-dramatization — but breakfast, brushing your teeth, or going for a car ride, to name a few, don’t need to be amped up to frenzied levels. I blame it all on advertising. And the media. While it’s so very important to have a free press, I think sometimes they take things a little far in getting the crowd worked up about this or that only to forget what they were talking about on Day 1 and move on to a new crisis on Day 2. It’s exhausting for those of us who just want to live a nice life without all the drama. Have a great day, Mari.

    Liked by 1 person

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