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Pickle Me This

August 17, 2005

When toasting a bagel, the cut sides must face away from each other

There hasn’t been much time to settle down and there won’t be for a while. It was a good, though tiring weekend and family tensions were running high. Highlights for me were having so many friends together, repeating our vows, good weather, excellent food, hopefully good photos and wine. It was wonderful to see Mike for the first time in ages. In other reunions, I met up with high school friend Laura Conchelos last night for a drink, and then we had breakfast this morning with Carrie Nicholls (who is no longer Carrie Nicholls but always will be in my mind) who had her third baby in tow, a beautiful five month old boy. Last night we were treated to a boat ride on Stoney Lake by Britt’s family. Today we went to the zoo and then saw the amazing “That Summer” at the 4th Line Theatre. Tomorrow we’re off to Toronto for three days, which will also include a trip to Niagara Falls. In fabulous second-hand news, Stuart got a bike for $20 and a Game Cube for $60, and we both can’t wait to move into our new apartment.

I’ve been lacking the time/concentration to read much but really enjoyed this article by the gas-guzzling Margaret Wente, about how the language of the marketplace has spilled over into every part of life. She writes, “Anyone who cares about language, about meaning, about clarity, should revolt. Citizens are not customers, and democracy is not a product. If Barbra Streisand had sung “Customers . . . customers who need customers,” would anyone have cared? If Martin Luther King had said, “I have a vision statement,” would anyone have listened? Words matter more than we think. We need them to express our deepest values. As a wise man once said, what does it profit you if you gain market share but lose your soul? Or something like that.”

It’s not just the language of the marketplace, it’s a manipulation of language to exalt the mundane, to make giving read getting something in return, to trick people into accepting bad news. There is an art to that, but it’s too common now to really matter. I recently received a toaster with two pages of instructions as to how to operate it. Any literature your bank sends out and the very fact that banks send out literature. The day our train broke down in Southampton, due to a “safety feature”. It’s annoying to have to translate everything from bullshit into plain English. As a writer, I don’t know what that says about me. I guess I think it’s ok to bend English, but it’s just being done for all the wrong reasons.

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