Monday 30 June 2008

A Creative Challenge - Meaningless Words

Big brother is watching 24 hours a day (by video)

When I think of it, about 90% of what we say today is actually meaningless. According to various surveys on the english language there are 500 commonly used words, so what about the rest. Only said and understood by the privileged few that may have undergone a special training in the english language, or those of us whose work and pastimes are connected in some way with the spoken word.

I took the above photo in our town's underground car park. Are those words meaningless? Well in a way I would say Yes, unless you are a native of the area where I live. Imagine an English, French, Italian or spanish tourist parking his car and seeing the shield on the wall. They mean nothing to him unless he speaks the German language. He would be in innocence of the fact that the car park is watched day and night by a video camera. I am sure those words are meaningless to those people, and I would say even to the natives. If I happen to drive into another car in the car park, my first thought is not "I am being watched" but "what damage have I done to my car".

Another example: you are on holiday in Wales on the Island of Anglesey and see this name on the entrance to the village
Does this mean anything to you except for the fact that you have arrived somewhere with a stupid name. Well to the inhabitants of the village and those that have a command of the Welsh language, they do not find this at all stupid, but can tell you that they are living in a village called "
The church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St. Tysilio's of the red cave" in the english language, although I read that the name was created by a local shoemender as a publicity stunt. Whether these words are meaningless or not, is a matter of opinion. To the inhabitants of the village they have a meaning as they understand Welsh.


Above is a selection of books showing some of the languages I have learned or tried to learn over the past years and this now brings me to the subject of the understanding of our fellow homo sapiens on this earth. Some of us are of the opinion that english opens the key to all foreign doors. To a certain extent yes, but imagine taking a walk along the bank of a river in Italy and you hear the cry of "aiuto" in the air. You have arrived in Italy two days earlier and it is your first visit. Probably one of the natives having a loud conversation with his neighbour, nothing important, so you walk on. On the way an ambulance sounding the alarm comes towards you. Perhaps the words were not meaningless. Actually not, someone was drowning and was calling for help. OK, a bit of a crass explanation, but we should not push all words into the "meaningless" section. There are people that talk a lot, and others not so much, but if we really kept all the meaningless things out of our conversation I think

No. 1 Life would be boring
No. 2 Our world would become very silent
No. 3 We would stop listening to what the others say completely.

The first words you say if you meet someone on the street you know, or have been introduced to is Hello, How are you. Hello is ok - an ice breaker - but the answer to How are you is never really acknowledged. Who cares, and who is going to answer with the truth. The person in question might have a headache, might have been robbed or his wife(husband) left them for another on the day before. Is this person going to tell you this. Not really - the answer will be ok, but ..... What comes after the but interests no-one really.

Then we have the man arrested for the murder of his wife. His wife was rich, her fortune is left to her husband and no-one believes that with such head injuries she just fell down the stairs, although the accused is adamant in saying it was an accident. Not guilty are meaningless words in this case. He pushed her and was committed to life imprisonment. Guilty or non guilty mean nothing in the eyes of the law, those words have to be proved.

I particularly liked the courses we had to take at work in dealing with customers by telephone in the proper way. This was very psychological. The customer has a problem. The contract was not maintained, he received the wrong goods, or whatever. He calls your company and makes a very loud verbal complaint in words that mean a lot to him. What are you taught by the lecturer of the course. Just let him talk into emptiness, do not acknowledge his remarks. He will soon quieten down and then in a cool, quiet voice you may talk to him about his problems. He will calm down and your problem of an irate customer disappears. This meaning that the customer's words are meaningless and are to be treated as such. However, the customer felt they were meaningful, but after the clever psychological trick played on him, he himself finds them meaningless eventually.

So what do I say with all these meaningless/meaningful words I have just written. Nothing really, but it is just not as easy to define as we think. I rest my case.

Before I go, just one more thing. You are a tourist visiting the Swiss capital town of Bern and visit their bear pit, one of the tourist attractions. You have to go to the toilet and see this poster confronting you on the way out. What do you do. Is it meaningless - does it seem meaningless - the interpretation of the meaning lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Poster seen in toilet, Bear Pit, Bern

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