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05 September 2006

The Sky Is Falling? Part 2 of Why Firing People For Quoting The West Wing Is Bad For . . . Everyone

But I do know this. As there is very little new under the sun, nothing, in fact. Writers are inspired by the ideas, words and rhythms of those who came before us. T. S. Eliot said that good writers borrow, great writers steal. This I believe.When you are sensitive to language, when you have read and read well, great words and ideas and rhythms become a part of you, inform your pattern of thought. You feel able not only to to express, but to shape language. Sitting at your little computer at a little desk; sitting with your yellow legal pad and ballpoint pen under a big tree, you are the master of words, of language, you see words move before your mind and know that . . .here, this one is wanted to evoke pain, that one, for beauty. Whether a sentence should flow like water or fall as spare and barren as a dried twig from a dying tree. Writing well, is a glorious experience, and is also a public service. As I said earlier and as King Solomon said far earlier than I, 'there is nothing new under the sun' what great writers do, whether quoting or inspired by other writers, is keep alive what is the best of us in our language and ideas and give them new significance and relevance for our lives today.

And we need great writers right now. In the U.S. at least the English language expression of ideas is devolving into sad, stupid thing. It's embarrassing. The lyrics of rap, which is (at least in it's mass marketed form) crude, unintelligent, and usually unintelligible has entered into the vernacular with all of its idiocy and none of the its eloquence. Now more than ever we need good, brave English teachers who make sure that our kids can use the language properly if the wish. But more and more teachers are too timid, placing too much emphasis on 'relating' to students rather than teaching them, too undereducated themselves to instruct young adults in using the language with confidence. And at home. Ha! Parents have all but abdicated responsibility for giving their kids the tools they need. And silly me, I'm craving eloquence? I'll settle for being able to understand them when having to face them over this counter or that desk out in the world.

Actually, no. I'm lying. I'll settle for eloquence.

The fact is that we used to read much more as a culture. We learned poetry and plays. Great writers like, Shakespeare and Whitman, Cummings and Hellman informed the American --

Truth to tell, I'm not sure whether any of this matters. Is it the education system? Is it the fact that we don't read enough? I'm not sure. I think that great writers make for great language. They hear or see something in words most others don't. They put it into a book, play or (Thanks to NBC and CBS in the cases of Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet) television show. Many people or a few, read or watch the finished product, another writer uses a version of some line in their work. A few become enamored of the book or play or TV show (ever heard of a 'Wing' Nut? As in 'The West Wing'?) And the language from that work or in it's style begins to pepper their language. What happens? They're throwing out brilliant sounding language, at the office or while standing in line for a movie. Someone hears or overhears, chuckles to themselves and thinks, 'Very clever, that's exactly what I mean to say. Hmm . . . I'm gonna use that. How did he say it again? He said . . .' and an eloquent line enters into our daily language.

Hmmm . . . well . . . So I guess we'll be fine. We'll probably be okay. The sky is not actually falling, good language isn't dead, maybe just hibernating a bit. And so long as there are still good writers out there writing and a few siren intoxicated sailors to become wrapped up in words and infect others with their beauty, the English language may not devolve completely.

So we'll be fine. So long as publishing companies, television networks and the like don't start trying to sue people for using it. You think I'm being paranoid? Possibly.
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