Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Laughing Linguist

In the grammar game, there's one well-kept secret that's better kept than all the others. It eludes every strict schoolmarm who would tell you you can't use "nauseous" to mean "nauseated." It's unknown to every pinch-faced pedant who demands you can't end a sentence with a preposition. It's a mystery to every snob who takes "whom" too seriously.

The secret is this: Language is not just a tool, it's also a toy. Words are fun. They present infinite opportunities not just for expression but for exploration. For play.

There was one man who got this better than anyone else. A man who has been called comedy's first true linguist. Who did more than any other to spread the word about just how much fun words can be.

Rest in peace, Mr. Carlin.


Joel said...

Amen. I am completely with you.

Carlin's riffs were works of true virtuosity that taught me more about the essence, purpose and importance of language than any style guide or grammar. Your own work is more in keeping with his spirit than those useful but generally self-important and prudish works of legalism and conformity, so it is quite fitting that you would pay homage here.

I'm not sure that I knew--until I heard it in a couple of the recent remembrances--that Carlin, like Lenny Bruce before him, spent time in jail because of a particular species of grammar snob. We owe a lot to both men and they will not soon be forgotten.

Here's to play, to freedom, to honesty--indeed, even to a good, healthy dose of rebellion every now and then (when the system is full of itself and unjust, which, um, I suppose it usually is). Here's to living, laughing language.

George, I'm thinking the seven words even now, and I can't help but hear them in your voice.

June Casagrande said...

Beautifully put. Thank you.

benbradley said...

The label of linguist for George Carlin (one I certainly agree with and one no doubt he would have been proud to wear) brings this to (my Carlin-influenced, word-playful) mind:

He wasn't just any kind of linguist - he was a cunning one. ;-)

June Casagrande said...

He would be shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

: )


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