Literati

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I wrote this short piece a few months ago, but didn’t post it on this blog. The foremost reason people become writers is to express themselves, but in that expression, like all other forms of art, lies a feeling of superiority. Pretty much all of the writing community that claims superiority in literature is pretentious and elitist. This goes for authors, journalists, writers, editors, librarians and English teachers.

Here’s the first instance I got to know how funny it really was. In fifth grade I wanted to make my already great story in our English test even better, so I made up a word. I used it in a sentence thusly: “it was the most westful day ever.” If you’d know the language you’d know that westful doesn’t mean anything. It could be a word, but it isn’t. It was made up by an 11 year old. I was really stupid then and naturally, I thought I’d be called out on it. But then I wasn’t, and everything changed from then on.

I make it a point to make up words like that as I go along. Occasionally I’ll put in a made up word in one of my essays or blog posts or test papers and no one will know the difference. They might even learn the word – assigning it its own arbitrary meaning, and then use it. Then it would eventually permeate through the upper crust of English ostentatiousness into the formal common lexicon of the proletariat bourgeois masses and then into the thin, receding background of the literary illiterate.

No one likes being told that their writing is incorrect, but for some people, doing that is their job. And naturally many will take a perverse pleasure in doing so, like your local bobby on his afternoon stroll through an urban neighborhood, or the person in front of you on an aeroplane who reclines his seat before the person in front of him. I do it too – I think of myself as a good writer, when in fact I do not know how to spell occasionally without resorting to spell-check, and my semi-colon placement is arbitrary at best.

My point is, no one knows English because it’s a huge, continually changing language. To claim to know it in full is committing suicide because there will always be people, students even, who are better. And we know that, and we let words that we don’t know the meaning off slide by, because that’s the nature of reading – not knowing a word doesn’t harm us because we get the general gist of the paragraph. Rather not waste time looking up the meaning of that word you don’t know the meaning of. If only you did, you might discover that it doesn’t exist.

Follow Upamanyu Acharya:

Upamanyu Acharya is a writer who doesn't write. Sometimes he's an artist, musician, photographer, physicist or lazy student. His hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words. This is his personal blog where he writes on topics ranging from leadership skills to the consistency of jam.

2 Responses

  1. quickwitshayon

    Lord, this is exquisite.
    "permeate through the upper crust of English ostentatiousness into the formal common lexicon of the proletariat bourgeois masses" that's precisely when I think, I died and reached Heaven.
    See, You made me mention Lord and Heaven more than my mother can. Bravo!

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