Image by Jon Tyson
I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin' . . .
This profound statement was brought into my life by the Hanna sisters, Jackie and Kim. They were my sometimes line-mates on the hockey club that let me stay on the team even after they saw me skate because my house was perfect for the team Christmas party.
Kim and Jackie, like all siblings, had their own communication style, with its unique phrases and layered nuances. Often, their conversation would end as they came into the change room before a game and one or the other would adjourn the conversation with the words, "I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'!"
I was always impressed with how much they conveyed with that spicy configuration of words. Sometimes, it meant, "Let's finish this later." Sometimes it meant, "I don't want to talk about this anymore. Ever." Sometimes it meant, "I hear you, but maybe you should rethink this." It meant, "I didn't mean to offend you, but that's how I feel about it." It meant, "Don't be upset, I still love you even though I think you're wrong." And of course, sometimes it meant, "Shut your festering gob."
The line was multi-faceted for the Hanna sisters because they are sisters. Which word did she emphasize? Was she looking at her sister or away from her? What was her body language saying? And tone? Oh, so much to glean from the tone! Then there is context. What were they discussing? And what had they been discussing earlier in the day? Or yesterday? Or last year? Or when they were teenagers?
You see my point. Context is everything. Tone and body language are huge. But words? Not so much.
That's what makes language so interesting.
To be attuned to the malleability of language is also to be attuned to its fallibility.
When we first begin to learn language, it is fairly simple. A two-year-old points to a guitar ands asks, what's this? The answer is, It's a guitar.
But as we grow and learn, those two words could mean something completely different. For example, a spouse points to a guitar and says, What's this?
Their partner knows exactly what they are really asking:
Why is your guitar out? You promised we would do something together tonight.
As I sit here wondering about words, I am alone in my house and so I look up the word solitude. It is a very simple definition. Solitude, says the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, is the state of being alone. Hmm. I am in solitude right now. Yet, that’s not the right word in my mind. I would say that I am in solitude when I have taken myself out of my regular day to day context and chosen to be alone for some specific purpose. Usually, it is to write. The word solitude for me is a positive, exciting word. It denotes a choice on my part, and so I have already moved away from the dictionary definition's placid 'state of being'.
However, my thesaurus suggests that the word isolation is interchangeable with privacy, seclusion, isolation, and even loneliness. As you read the list, each of you will have a different opinion about which of those terms fits best with solitude.
For me, each of those words evokes a different sphere of experience and feeling. And none of them matches my personal definition of solitude.
So, when I tell you that I have spent a lot of time in solitude lately, I am sharing good news. You likely have someone in your life who could say the same words and it would mean something completely different and would evoke very different emotions.
I think the reason this topic fascinates me so much, is because my writing, fiction and non-fiction, is driven by my desire to understand people. Others and through them, myself. So really, if you want to truly understand someone, you need to speak their language - THEIR language. And that is a commitment. Language is a living, evolving thing. To truly understand another person takes a huge amount of effort and time. I have lived with my partner for 33 years and while I have a good grasp of "Shannonese", I can still be surprised by evolving definitions or new nuances.
Life experiences also change our relationship to words and so many words at 55 years of age have very different layers of meaning than they did at 33. Many words with which I had only a theoretical relationship are now small lexicons of their own.
How you respond emotionally to that word has nothing to do with a dictionary definition, does it?
Ah, language! It can lift us up and it can trip us up. As usual, I am not offering answers or insights. I'm just sitting here wondering.
I will say this, though. The language centre in the brain is an amazing thing, but I can't understand nothin' about nothin' if my heart isn't involved.
I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.