Day 173: The Language Forest

My favorite image for language itself is a great forest: it’s a living thing, and it’s bigger than we are, and we’re born into the middle of it and we gradually get to know more and more about it as we grow ourselves. It provides us with shelter and food and pleasure. (The forest is the phase space of all we can possibly say.) But parts of it are being burned down, and other parts are struggling to find light and nourishment, and the terrible thing is now we’re conscious, the nature of the forest itself has changed. … We can’t pretend to be innocent in the face of language, any more than in the face of knowledge of any sort: we are conscious, and so we are responsible. Whether we like it or not, the forest of language is not wild virgin forest any more; it’s being managed, and some of it is being managed badly. And we’re responsible, we the story people, the poetry people, the book people. In our parts of the forest, we are in charge.

Philip Pullman, Dæmon Voices

Day 139: Philip Pullman

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I have just begun Philip Pullman's volume of essays, Daemon Voices, and after the first selection I am enamored, so consider yourself warned that there might be a bit of Pullman in the coming days. This is him on taking care with language:

We should become attuned to our own utterances; we should install a little mental bell that rings when we’re using expressions that are second-hand or blurred through too much use. We should try always to use language to illuminate, reveal, and clarify rather than obscure, mislead, and conceal. The language should be safe in our hands—safter than it is in those of politicians, for example; at the least, people should be able to say that we haven’t left it any poorer, or clumsier, or less precise. The aim must always be clarity.