Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cutting a Fine Figure

You've whipped up quite a bit of fun  for yourself by seeing how far you could get in a conversation with Spanish-speaking individuals, where you were able only to use one of the great mischief words in that estimable language, segun.  There are myriad possibilities for meaning in that word, accordingly, or it depends or even it follows being among them.

Another such word is quizas, which can mean perhaps or maybe or in a pinch, whatever.  Because of their flexibility such words in any language make it possible for persons in real life to do what they often do in stories, which is talk about different subjects, intend different outcomes, and yet maintain the conviction that they have been perfectly understood because, after all, they have made things quite clear.

You have enjoyed this, nodding your head in apparent agreement to a point, and then, when the eyes of the other speakers are on you, perhaps a curl of the lip or a cupping of the chin, to demonstrate your thoughtfulness before you deliver your line, "Segun."

Here you are then at the point equidistant from literal and figurative, a point where we spend a good deal of time, alternately giving clues and looking for them, yearning to be understood, eager to understand.  And yet, two of our favored expressions, as loaded with mysterious powers and taboo-like atmospheres are, "You don't understand," and "I don't understand."

Each is delivered in calmness at first, but as the circumstances become more heated--and the circumstances will become heated--the exclamations begin to appear, followed by waving hands and other gestures of frustration.  A boundary is reached, then passed.  Now, we're at the point where one person says with some conviction, "I understand."  But the border has been trespassed.  The boundary has been breached.  The riposte to this protestation of understanding has become, "You don't understand."

"But I do."

"How could you?"

There is the language of literalness, of meaning what is said, saying what is meant, all with the understanding that the recipient of the language understands and visualizes the output of the speaker.  There is no hyperbole or rhetoric here.  There is no being so hungry I could eat a horse, or even the use of the expression, "back in the day," to mean "Way back then," or "At that time."

We cannot have the long arm of the law, which is not only figurative, it is a synecdoche, nor can we have our ducks in a row, or, as a substitute for having our affairs in order, which is not figurative, we can be squared away, which is figurative.

Our goal is to be understood, which seems straightforward enough until it may come to us that we don't know what we're talking about or are caught out by being forced to explain the workings of something we'd taken for granted, and thought we knew.  We throw in a bit of figurative to spice up what has not only become threatening, it borders on boring.

Enter a figure of speech.  At one point, your publishing affairs took you to the northeastern portion of Tennessee, where you heard  a local speaking of the growing humidity in a way that fascinated you.  "Feel like I wuz hit in the face with a wet squirrel."

You could not wait to get back to California, where you would use this as a combination of descriptive language and semiotics.  Trouble was, and still is, you've not been in a place humid enough to use the figurative gem because 1) there is not sufficient humidity here to justify such an image and 2) although there are indeed squirrels in abundance, they are seen off at a distance for the most part.  You have to, in effect, be "there" for figurative speech to work.

Figurative usages seem to spill forth, once you get up a head of steam on whatever you might be working on at the time.  Because you enjoy them and because they seem to steal into your work with little or no planning, you tend to be suspicious of them, questioning them as potential interloper before allowing them to stay.

Figurative language causes you suspicions.  You might even say they make you as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

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